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Canada’s unions stand with India’s farmers and farm workers

Canada’s unions stand in solidarity with farmers and agricultural workers in India as they continue to protest recent reforms to agricultural laws that deregulate the industry and leave farmers and farm workers vulnerable to exploitation by international corporations.

“Deregulating local produce markets will have a devastating impact on farmers, farm workers and food security in India,” said Canadian Labour Congress President, Hassan Yussuff. “We stand with the international labour movement to support workers who are taking to the streets to protest these reforms and fight for their rights.”

India’s central and local governments passed three farm acts in September. Taken together, these acts threaten to impoverish millions of small farmers and leave millions more farm workers unemployed. Farmers’ unions have been protesting since August, escalating to a national general strike on November 26, 2020.

The government of India has also proposed reforms that undermine unions and violate international labour standards that India has ratified as a member of the International Labour Organization.

“The government’s legislation leaves farmers and workers at the mercy of large multinational corporations and global commodity price swings,” said Yussuff. “We deplore the fact that some states in India are also using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to suspend labour laws and attack workers’ rights. The international community has to stand up.”

The protesting farmers are making several demands, including asking that the new farm laws be repealed; that all repressive measures taken against protesters cease; and that movement leaders who have been arrested be released. Other workers’ unions in the country have joined the protests in support of the farmers.

Canada’s unions call for pathway to permanent residency for all migrant workers

Canada’s unions are marking International Migrants Day by calling on the federal government to offer a pathway to permanent residency to all migrant workers who wish to apply.

The federal government recently announced that it will be accepting applications for permanent residence from refugee claimants working in the healthcare sector. This important announcement recognizes the crucial contributions refugee workers have made to the safety and wellbeing of communities across the country, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Canada’s unions are concerned that the eligibility criteria are too narrow.

“While we applaud the government’s recent announcement, the option to apply for permanent residency should be available to migrant workers in all sectors,” said Hassan Yussuff, CLC President. “The pandemic has shown that migrant workers provide essential services. All migrant workers deserve the opportunity to stay in Canada and to have their human and labour rights protected, just as any other worker.”

This week, the federal government also announced that it will allow seasonal migrant workers from Trinidad and Tobago – stuck in Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions – to apply for open work permits. This grants them job mobility, and gives them access to healthcare and employment insurance while Canadian officials negotiate their return home.

Although this is a step in the right direction, it highlights the vulnerability of migrant workers.

Migrant workers face insecurity, discrimination and often work in dangerous conditions. Their precarious position leaves them dependant on employers and makes them especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The pandemic has only made this worse.

During the initial quarantine period earlier this year, migrant workers reported wage issues, food insecurity and a lack of required public health measures in their accommodations. By the month of November, nearly 2,000 migrant workers on farms across Canada had fallen ill with COVID-19, and three had died.

“The federal government must also ensure that migrant workers have comprehensive worker protections to prevent exploitation, abuse, mistreatment and discriminatory workplace policies,” said Yussuff. “These workers have been doing critical work throughout the pandemic to keep our families and communities safe and cared for, while they faced instability, insecurity and unfair working and living conditions. It’s past time for their efforts to be recognized and valued.”

Canada’s unions believe that all workers in Canada should be treated fairly. Migrant workers deserve a fair future just as all workers do. Our country’s recovery depends on the expansion of equal rights and protections for all workers so we can ensure a better, more inclusive, and just economic recovery.

Canada’s unions welcome new bill to adopt Indigenous rights framework

Canada’s unions welcome the federal government’s recent announcement and subsequent tabling of a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), a commitment which was to be fulfilled before the end of the year.

The new bill, Bill C-15, comes four years after former NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced Bill C-262, a similar private members bill that died in the Senate.

“By introducing Bill C-15, the federal government is taking a long overdue and much needed step on the path toward reconciliation,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “The Bill would require the government to take concrete action to ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the Declaration.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People establishes a framework of global minimum human rights standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples. Just as Bill C-262 did before it, the new Bill affirms UNDRIP as a universal international human rights framework with application in Canadian law.

The Bill would require the federal government, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to:

  • Ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration;
  • Prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of UNDRIP, to be completed as soon as practicable, but no later than three years after the day on which this section comes into force; and
  • Prepare and table an annual report on progress on the action plan, and to align the laws of Canada with UNDRIP.

Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for the government to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation and justice for Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons who continue to face the deep brunt of the legacy of colonial violence.

Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to pass and enact Bill C-15 in a timely fashion and are joining Indigenous leaders and community members in stressing that Indigenous peoples have been waiting far too long for substantive and resolute measures from the federal government when it comes to justice and reconciliation.

“The government must seize this opportunity to make significant and meaningful change in the lives of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and move forward on the path to true reconciliation,” said CLC Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau.

Human Rights Day: equitable COVID-19 recovery requires investment in care

Canada’s unions are marking International Human Rights Day by calling for long-term investments in the care sector.

“Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights” is the United Nations theme for this year’s International Human Rights Day, which is observed December 10.

“It is critical that Canada’s COVID-19 recovery efforts tackle the human rights failures that have been exposed by the pandemic. Significant government investments in the care sector will help level the playing field for those most affected by this virus,” said CLC Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau.

“We welcome the federal government’s recent commitments to invest in public care systems. Canada must focus on creating better jobs, improving working conditions, and addressing the deep disparities within our economy,” he added.

The pandemic has demonstrated how our communities rely on precarious, low-wage work and unpaid labour in critical care sectors. This includes child care, early childhood education, elderly care, mental health, and other social care services that serve the health and safety of our communities.

Many of the workers in these sectors are Black, Indigenous, women of colour and recent immigrants. While this work is deemed “essential”, it is undervalued and workers face poor working conditions, violence, harassment and numerous other risks to their health and safety. They also face a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and a lack of job security and access to benefits.

“This global crisis has laid bare what we’ve been saying for years: systemic discrimination and marginalization have put certain groups at a disadvantage. Entire communities are having a much harder time recovering due to unequal access to opportunities and services such as employment, health care and housing,” said Rousseau. “Long-term investment in care is crucial to disaster-proofing our economy, safeguarding our social safety net against future crises, and ensuring our collective well-being.”

Sign our petition urging the government to increase investments in our public care systems so we can move forward together and build a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Darryl Flasch – Winner of the 2020 Carol McGregor CLC Disability Rights Award

Every year on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Canadian Labour Congress will recognize a union member for their disability rights activism.

This award is named in honour of Carol McGregor, an outstanding disability rights activist, member of BCGEU/NUPGE and the CLC Disability Rights Working Group―and who was much loved by all those who worked with her. Carol passed away in 2006.

In 2020, the award recognized the lifetime achievements of Darryl Flasch, a member of the British Columbia Government and Services Employees Union (BCGEU/NUPGE). As an active trade unionist since 1990, Darryl has dedicated 30 years of his life to removing barriers and ensuring the inclusion of workers with disabilities in his workplace and in the labour movement. He also worked tirelessly to advocate for more tools and resources within his union, including accessibility audits, in order to build a labour movement and communities that are inclusive of all abilities.

Workers with disabilities must help shape Canada’s Disability Inclusion Strategy

Canada’s unions are marking December 3 – the International Day for Persons with Disabilities –by calling on the federal government to include persons with disabilities in Canada’s economic recovery strategy.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s unions have collaborated with disability rights coalitions like the Include Me Campaign, to highlight the unique challenges and barriers faced by persons with disabilities during this health crisis.

“We know that the current health crisis has intensified the discrimination and stigma towards workers with disabilities. Hard-won workplace accommodations are at risk when the office becomes virtual, and workers with disabilities are at a greater risk of being laid off or having their jobs furloughed,” said Larry Rousseau, CLC Executive Vice-President.

“It’s critical that we shine a light on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities during this pandemic, especially those whose experiences are amplified by multiple marginalized identities including women, Indigenous and racialized people, and those in the LGBTQ2SI community.”

Even before the pandemic, unemployment rates ranged between 35 per cent for people with ‘mild’ disabilities to 74 per cent for people with ‘severe’ disabilities. High levels of poverty and unemployment have only worsened for persons with disabilities in the midst of this crisis.

Meanwhile, the reliance on affordable housing, income and health care supports is greater than ever – programs for which funding and availability already vary greatly across the country.

The federal government’s throne speech earlier this fall highlighted many new and important initiatives to help address the disproportionate impacts of this crisis on persons with disabilities. This included a new Disability Inclusion Plan, which would feature:

  • A new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors;
  • A robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities; and
  • A better process to determine eligibility for government disability programs and benefits.

“While we welcome the new disability inclusion strategy, we are also calling for the voices of workers with disabilities and their unions to be at the forefront,” added Rousseau.

“These discussions will guide the design and implementation of this strategy and must ensure that it adequately addresses the barriers to employment and economic security that workers with disabilities face.”

The federal government can help alleviate anxiety by investing in jobs and collaborating with unions on initiatives like a robust employment strategy for persons with disabilities, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.

Learn more about the CLC’s Forward Together campaign at canadianplan.ca.

Canada’s Unions Mark Trans Day of Remembrance

Canada’s unions are marking this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance by calling on the federal government to implement a ban on conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy aims to change an individual’s sexual orientation or to change an individual’s gender identity. This harmful practice negatively impacts LGBTQ2SI people and reinforces myths and stereotypes.

“Conversion therapy is a cruel and dangerous practice that stigmatizes LGBTQ2SI communities. It must stop,” said CLC Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau. “Canada’s unions support strong legislation to help protect LGBTQ2SI people from the life-long trauma and harm conversion therapy can inflict.”

The federal government introduced legislation earlier this fall to ban the practice. Bill C‑6 is now before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The Yukon recently banned conversion therapy, making it the only territory to have such a ban. Ontario, Nova Scotia and P.E.I have also previously banned conversion therapy provincially.

This annual Day of Remembrance is an important opportunity to highlight the disproportionately high levels of violence that trans communities face. Transphobia and transphobic violence were at a crisis point even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is no doubt that the situation has worsened. So far in 2020, 350 trans and gender diverse people have been reported murdered worldwide.

The most recent report on health and well-being among racialized trans and non binary people in Canada found that, among respondents, 72% had experienced verbal harassment in the past 5 years, 45% had been harassed at work or school, and 73% worried about being stopped or harassed by police or security because of who they are.

“Canada’s unions have a critical role to play when it comes to fighting back against these terrifying statistics,” said Rousseau. “Our workplaces and our unions are not immune from transphobia, but we can be part of the solution to combat and end transphobic violence.”

The CLC created the Workers In Transition handbook, a guide to supporting trans rights in the workplace.

There have been several important victories in recent years in support of trans rights in Canada. In 2017, gender identity was included in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a protected identity. Accessible public educational and mental health supports in communities across the country have also become more widely available.

However, there is still lots of work to do to support trans rights and the wellbeing of trans people in Canada. For example, the trans rights from region to region are inconsistent, and access to life saving health care – like hormone replacement therapy and gender affirming surgeries – is not available to all.

“We must continue to fight for trans lives at work, in our provincial and territorial legislatures, and on parliament hill. We cannot live in a world where our comrades and friends are being harassed or killed because of their gender identity,” said Rousseau.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many Trans Day of Remembrance vigils are being held virtually. Check out this list to show your solidarity and join a virtual event.

Canada’s unions mark World Day for Decent Work with a call for a robust economic recovery plan

COVID-19 has exposed flaws in social protections in Canada and around the world. The effects of this pandemic on health, employment, income, gender and racial equity are all the more catastrophic because of pre-existing gaps in our social safety net.

Before the pandemic, ever-increasing globalization meant many workers were employed in precarious, low-wage work with few, if any, benefits. Now millions of people across Canada and around the world have seen their jobs disappear. We need a worldwide recovery focused on secure employment and social protection.

This context serves as the backdrop for the annual commemoration of the World Day for Decent Work today, October 7.

“It’s clear that we need a recovery that is focused on shared prosperity and sustainability,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “Better jobs are at the core of a robust recovery and that is true both nationally and internationally.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for a new social contract to ensure a strong global economic recovery. Canada’s unions have similarly launched Forward Together: A Canadian Plan, a campaign calling for a similar focus on better jobs and reducing inequality.

“With millions of jobs lost across Canada, and hundreds of millions globally, we have to turn our focus to job creation. That includes focusing on secure employment, living wages, the universal right to collective bargaining and occupational health and safety,” said Yussuff. “The current economic model has failed working people. It’s time for us to rise to the challenge we’ve been presented with and to move forward, together.”

The CLC is marking the World Day for Decent Work with a webinar that aims to explore the issues at stake. It will be held on Wednesday, October 7 at 2 PM EDT. To register, click here.

Read ITUC’s statement on A New Social Contract for Recovery and Resilience here.

Canada’s unions call for mental health supports for all

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of people across Canada. It is important to recognize the negative impact, and reflect on the stigma still associated with mental illness in our workplaces and communities.

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), this week from October 4 to 10, is part of a national public education campaign in Canada to educate communities and organizations about mental illness.

“This is an important opportunity to reflect on the barriers faced by people living with mental illness in their workplace and in their communities,” said Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “Canada’s path to economic recovery needs to focus on the well-being of workers and their families.”

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s most recent policy advice on COVID-19 and mental health in Canada, “50 percent of Canadians [have] reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began” and “in a survey of Canadian workers, 81 per cent reported that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health.”

Participants in these studies outlined increased stress due to high levels of anxiety related to fears about the future, their loved ones, employment outcomes and the overall negative impact of social isolation on mental health.

“We need federal leadership that commits to learning from this crisis, and develops a recovery plan that centres the needs of the most marginalized, and that includes ensuring better mental health support and access to universal, single-payer pharmacare for all,” said Rousseau. “That’s why the campaign we launched on Labour Day demands a recovery that strengthens our public health care system.”

Useful links:

On Orange Shirt Day, Canada’s unions recommit to supporting Indigenous communities

September 30 is recognized across Canada as Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the children who were removed from their families and sent to residential schools where many became victims of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse and torture.

Orange Shirt Day serves as an important reminder of the legacy of residential schools, the generational trauma and systemic barriers still faced by First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities in what we call Canada today.

“Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to honour Indigenous lives and work to confront ongoing colonialism and violence against Indigenous communities,” said Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

The horrors of the residential school system are an important part of Canada’s colonial history. For unions, part of taking action on Orange Shirt Day includes recognizing that the legacy of residential schools is echoed in existing government policies, including the discriminatory practice of birth alerts, the over representation of Indigenous children in the foster care system, and the underfunding of child and family services on reserves.

“There is no erasing the experiences of the victims of residential schools and the ongoing generational impacts, we can only honour their memory by moving forward towards reconciliation,” said Rousseau. “That’s why we, as unions, have taken action to support Indigenous-led campaigns to address the systemic inequities and injustices faced by Indigenous communities, and push all levels of government to adopt the calls to action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report.”

Residential schools are estimated to have impacted the lives of at least 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children between 1880 to 1996. Approximately 80,000 survivors are still alive today.

“There is still a long way to go to ensure justice for Indigenous children in this country, but by taking part in Orange Shirt Day, unions can take a meaningful step in raising awareness of the legacy of residential schools and the work that lies ahead to combat racism and colonialism in this country,” said Rousseau. “In the midst of a global pandemic, we cannot and we won’t leave behind Indigenous children and their families. Every child matters.”

The trauma inflicted by residential schools has had far-reaching and devastating impacts on survivors, their families and Indigenous communities.

To learn more, visit these links: