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Five ways to build on the labour movement’s momentum in 2023

As the new year gets into full swing, there is an opportunity to build on the labour movement’s momentum and defend the rights of the working class. Here are some improvements to labour rights that would radically change the lives of workers in 2023.

PSAC are just some members of the labour movement fighting for better rights for workers.
PSAC members marching for their rights.

The labour movement saw landmark victories in 2022. From 10 paid sick days for federally regulated workers, to Ontario education workers standing up for bargaining rights, power and solidarity in the labour movement is growing.

As the new years get into full swing, there is an opportunity to build on this momentum and defend the rights of the working class. Here are some improvements to labour rights that would radically change the lives of workers in 2023.

Cost of living wage adjustments

Workers had to navigate record levels of inflation in 2022. At its highest, the Consumer Price Index had increased 6.7 per cent on a year over year basis in both July and August, according to Statistics Canada.

The burden was especially heavy at gas pumps and grocery stores. Canadians had to pay 13.7 per cent more on gas in November 2022 than in 2021, Statistics Canada reported. As well, fresh vegetables were listed as one of the main contributors to the rise in the Consumer Price Index between October 2022 and November.

As affording basic necessities seems more and more unrealistic for a growing number of people, it has become clear that wages for workers need to keep pace.

Multiple bargaining units in British Columbia added cost of living adjustments into their negotiations last summer, and PSAC is also demanding wage adjustments that acknowledge inflation.

As bargaining picks up again this year, cost of living wage adjustments may become a part of more collective agreements.

Paid sick days

While the implementation of 10 paid sick days for federally regulated workers was a major step forward, many workers are still left at the mercy of their provincial governments. Right now, each province has a different policy for sick leave. Every province’s legislation falls short of the 10 paid sick days that labour organizations are demanding.

For example, Manitoba says workers are entitled to a certain amount of money for sick leave, but this money only covers up to five days of sick leave.

With new COVID-19 sub-variants making their way into Canada, and the virus continuing to tear through Canadians, 10 paid sick days have proven to be a necessity. Organizations such as the Workers’ Solidarity Network and Justice for Workers have ongoing campaigns for improved sick leave legislation; it remains to be seen whether provincial governments will hear these calls.

Fixing Employment Insurance

In December, multiple organizations across the country mobilized to demand improved Employment Insurance coverage. Workers are demanding that requirements be reconsidered and that payments increase.

At the moment, only about 40 per cent of unemployed workers have access to Employment Insurance (EI). Those who receive payments get a measly 55 per cent of their weekly income.

The government has released a report outlining the problems with the current Employment Insurance system, but no reforms have been made yet. Is 2023 finally the year the Liberal government delivers a reformed EI system like they promised back in 2021?

While unemployment rates were lower in 2022 than they have been in other years, there are still many workers entering into 2023 hoping to see changes to EI.

Rights for gig economy workers

According to the December 2022 Labour Force Survey, there are approximately 250,000 people who worked for ride or delivery service apps. According to the documentary The Gig is Up by Canadian filmmaker Shannon Walsh, these gig workers are particularly vulnerable.

There is little job protection on these apps and a bad rating can lead to deactivation and loss of income.

As well, the pay model, which is based on “engaged time only” means many hours worked are left uncompensated.

Amidst rising inflation, many people may be looking for ways to earn extra income. However, gig work, despite its flexible hours, does not offer the working conditions that people deserve.

The Organization Gig Workers United is demanding that people who work for these apps be given full employee status and collective bargaining rights. Until this is done, gig workers will continue to be treated as second-class workers.

Status for all

In 2022, Canada’s reliance on migrant workers has become impossible to ignore. Statistics Canada has reported that migrant workers, specifically those employed through the temporary foreign work program, have helped address labour shortages.

Programs to support migrant workers have seen increases in funding. Millions of dollars have gone to the Migrant Workers Support Program. This program merely teaches migrants about their rights and does not make any changes to laws that leave them vulnerable.

The Migrant Workers Support Program misses the mark of what migrant workers have long been demanding. This program is not a replacement for a regularization program, which would see huge improvements to protections for migrant workers.

While there has been a strategy tabled by the federal government that expands pathways to permanent residency, this strategy will still leave some workers in situations of great precarity.

Sarom Rho, from the Migrants Rights Network, has previously told rabble.ca that status for all and permanent residency are the only way to ensure migrant workers are protected.
“Permanent Residency is fundamentally about rights,” Rho said to rabble in September. “It is the only existing mechanism in Canada for people to access rights such as basic employment rights. Speaking up against bad employers without reprisal or accessing health care can’t be done without permanent residency.”

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga
Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga
  Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.”  Gabby focuses on justice and human rights reporting.
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