Advancing the interests of labour works for all of society
By Nav Malhotra
Happy Labour Day, everyone!
plans are for this last, lazy long weekend of summer, please take a moment to
think about the workers who brought us this holiday in the first place.
In Canada, Labour
Day is the result of an 1886 Royal Commission that proposed a September
statutory holiday to quell the conflict that was simmering between labour and
capital at the time. Although unions had been legal since 1872 under the Trade
Unions Act, the outrageous arrests and criminal prosecution of striking trade
unionists prior to the act was still fresh in the memories of many.
When Labour Day
became a statutory holiday in 1894, it empowered workers to amplify their
longstanding fight for fair wages, safe workplaces and a reduction in the
working day from 12 hours to nine hours. That is no typo; Canada has only had a
40-hour week since the 1960s.
But I will stop
the history lesson here and focus on just the last few years in our province.
The lowest paid
workers in B.C. now earn the highest minimum wage in the country — $15.65 per
hour — thanks to the progressive and predictable increases brought in by the BC
NDP government. More than half of minimum wage earners are over 25, which means
they are working to earn a living and not merely saving for a European vacation
during their gap year.
Amendments to the Employment Standards Act in
January also gave workers in B.C. up to five days paid sick leave. Prior to
January 2022, more than one million workers in mostly low-wage jobs did not
have access to paid sick days, which meant that they either went to work ill or
lost pay for every day they were absent.
Paid sick days
are typical of union contracts, and so it was more good news for workers when
the Labour Relations Code was amended this year to make it more difficult for
employers to interfere in union organizing drives, as they have commonly done
for decades. It is worth noting that a 2018 Labour Code review found more than
90 per cent of complaints filed to the Labour Board for unfair labour practices
involved either unlawful termination or communication during an organizing
And finally, in
the astonishingly long overdue category, life-saving changes will finally be
introduced under the Workers Compensation Act requiring asbestos abatement
contractors to be licensed, and the workers and employers who perform asbestos
abatement to complete mandatory safety training and certification. Workplace
deaths owing to asbestos exposure do not generally garner a lot of media
headlines, and that is mostly due to it being a so-called “silent killer” that
does not show itself until years after exposure, and then slowly steals the
breath and life of its victims. Asbestos is responsible for a third of
advancements, there is still more work to do. I am reminded of this every day
when I arrive at my office in South Surrey and walk past two memorials
installed on our property. One monument honours the 26 miners who lost their
lives in the Granduc Mine slide in 1965, and the other pays tribute to members
of our union who died on the job from as far back as 1972 to as recently as
three years ago.
There are 11
names on the second memorial, and additional spaces have been gruesomely set
aside for more. As I write this, I am told there is another roadside worker who
was killed last year whose name has not yet been added.
So, as much as
Labour Day is a celebration of workers’ achievements and a day to enjoy what we
have rightfully earned as workers ourselves, it is also a day to remember the
deep sacrifices that many made to get us here, and how easily everything can be
I wish you all a
safe, restful and reflective Labour Day 2022.
Nav Malhotra is
the business manager/secretary-treasurer of the Labourers’ International Union
of North America (LiUNA!) Local 1611 based in South Surrey. LiUNA! 1611 has
more than 9,000 members working in the construction, security and service
sectors across B.C. and the Yukon.