Every Labour Day the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) recognizes the achievements of workers to the well-being and improvements of our province. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Labour Day was often a time for parades, barbecues and other celebrations.
The past 18 months of the pandemic has been extremely challenging for all of us. But thanks to the heroic work of first responders and front-line workers in health-care and the service industries, we continue to pull through.
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on all Canadians, most especially seniors in long-term care. It also exposed many weaknesses in our labour laws. Many low-wage workers were employed in jobs with no benefits, including paid sick days. While public health officials demanded individuals with cough or flu symptoms to self-isolate, many workers were compelled to go to work.
These workers kept us fed, healthy, housed and supported during one of the most significant economic and social upheavals in recent memory. They did all of this while risking their own health and safety, and that of their families. Meanwhile, CEOs making record profits unashamedly clawed back pandemic wages despite the ongoing risks.
Events surrounding Labour Day 2021 brought some dark clouds, namely the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT) report, along with some opportunities for workers, and the upcoming Federal election.
In early May, the PERT released its austerity driven report calling for huge cuts in health care and in education, in the privatization of public services and the selling of public assets. The PERT went as far as encouraging government to break union contracts, a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The union movement rejects any notion that the fiscal problems of our province be blamed on hardworking civil servants who educate, care for and serve our province. Even Premier Furey had to acknowledge the important work of front-line workers in serving our communities during the pandemic.
The good news is that workers will have an opportunity to shape the Canada we want. On September 20th Canadians will head to the polls and will set the direction for Canada for the coming years.
Workers are demanding a strong pandemic recovery plan that includes decent jobs to replace those lost over the last two years. These jobs must provide a living wage along with benefits like paid sick leave and pensions, and a path to unionization for workers.
Workers across Canada are demanding a strong plan that strengthens our social safety net, with improvements to Employment Insurance so that it is there for everyone who needs it. The plan must also include access to universal, affordable child care that works for families. And it is time Canada adopted a quality pharmacare program, whereby drug coverage would be available to everyone.
These steps will help keep us all safe and thriving when the next disaster hits, and they will help address long-standing inequality that has long plagued marginalized workers in Canada; particularly women of colour, workers with disabilities, and many others.
If we are to fully escape a sharp recession, and a mammoth job-market shock with lingering effects, the government must continue to invest. Furthermore, tax fairness will ensure that wealthy individuals and big businesses pay their fair share. After all, many corporations made record profits during the pandemic, and they can certainly afford to help Canada recover and keep us all safe.
In the lead up to the Federal election, all workers – whether they are unionized or not – must hold political leaders accountable. The beauty of our democratic system is that we, the voters, hold the cards. We can demand change from politicians by voting this fall.
Demand that your candidates address the pandemic recovery. They should have answers on how they plan to support workers and their families, in both the short and long term. Without workers, there is no recovery. That must be our message — on Labour Day and beyond.