2016 has been a big one for Canada’s unions and for Canada in general. In the past year, we saw political and social changes from coast to coast to coast.
We thought we would take a look back and highlight just a few of the ways Canada’s unions worked for fairness, equality, and human rights in 2016.
Winning a ban on asbestos
Asbestos is the leading work-related cause of death in Canada, claiming 2,000 lives each year. But it’s not just workers who are affected: when asbestos is disturbed and becomes airborne, anyone around it without specialized protection is at risk.
Canada’s unions have long worked to expose the danger posed by asbestos and to win a comprehensive ban. We worked with scientific experts, organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, and family members who have lost loved ones to asbestos-related disease. We even staged a holographic exhibit at Canada’s biggest mall to raise awareness of the need for a ban.
In December, we celebrated as the government listened and announced a ban that will finally put an end to the import, export and use of asbestos, and make workplaces and public spaces safer for all Canadians.
Campaigning for good jobs
Finding a good job seems to be harder than ever, especially for young workers. What’s out there is often precarious, which means a part-time, temporary or contract position that often comes with low wages, unpredictable scheduling, and less access to social protections like sick time and benefits.
In December, a new study released by CIBC Economics confirmed it: Canada has seen a slow but steady deterioration in job quality over the past several years.
Unions continue to be at the forefront of campaigns to raise the minimum wage. In 2016, the Alberta government introduced their plan to get to a $15/hour minimum wage and Canada’s unions have been actively encouraging other jurisdictions to follow Alberta’s lead.
Unions are also working with governments to win better provincial and national standards for all workers, including access to sick time, predictable schedules, and benefits. For more on how unions work to build better jobs for all, click here.
Canada’s unions have a long-standing commitment to supporting refugees settling in Canada. In response to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in late 2015, unions made this work a priority, establishing an unprecedented partnership with business and refugee organizations to support resettlement efforts at the national and community levels.
In 2016, unions have continued to raise money, and have also provided resettlement volunteer training and traveled across the country with a virtual reality refugee experience to build empathy for the struggle that refugees face.
Winning better public pensions
In the summer, unions celebrated an historic commitment by the federal and provincial governments to the first significant expansion of Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits in the plan’s history.
Unions campaigned for a better CPP because we wanted to win a better future, especially for the next generation. Saving for retirement is tough these days, especially for younger workers in an economy where good, secure jobs are hard to come by. We know that pensions are crucially important, not just to the well-being of workers and their families, but to the economic health of our communities. We will continue to press the government for improvements to ensure that the expansion does not leave workers like those on maternity leave behind.
Standing with migrant workers
Canada’s unions believe that no matter where you’re from, if you work in Canada, you should be treated fairly. Unions have worked for years with migrant worker groups to campaign for policy change and protection of basic human rights and labour standards.
In December, the federal government announced it would scrap the “four-in, four-out” rule, which limited how long Temporary Foreign Workers could stay in Canada. Unions had long argued that eliminating this rule would be a first step towards reducing the exploitative nature of the Temporary Foreign Worker program and ultimately creating a path to permanent residency.
Championing justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women
For over a decade, unions have actively supported calls from Indigenous communities for a national inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Unions launched petitions, lobbied government, and assisted in raising national and international awareness.
In August, the federal government announced the long-overdue inquiry, and Canada’s unions stood with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and other allies to respond to the terms of reference. We continue to stand with these groups, working to ensure the government incorporates their concerns in the inquiry process.
In October, we also staged a multimedia performance featuring holograms, dancers and music by A Tribe Called Red to honour and raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.