Workers are sounding the alarm—parliamentarians must take heed

February 1, 2023

By Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress as published in The Hill Times

Ask any worker in Canada how they are faring right now, and they will most likely tell you that they are struggling.

The issues facing workers and their families are stacking up. Eye-watering costs for food, housing, and other necessities are hammering workers’ wallets. Inflation is sky-high, although slowly moderating, and the double whammy of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive interest rate hikes combined with stagnant wages has poured gasoline on the fire.

Communities from coast to coast are grappling with the effects of climate change, while public services are pushed to their limits. ERs are overflowing, and hospitals, long-term care homes and other care facilities face critical staff shortages that threaten lives.

Workers’ rights are under attack as wealthy CEOs seek to maximize their bottom lines at any cost; corporations report bumper profits while workers take real pay cuts, all while millions skip meals to make ends meet.

This is the reality for workers across Canada.

Workers need government to invest in the solutions to these problems. Vital programs like dental care for low-income children and top-ups for low-income renters are a good start, but more is needed.

With the challenges mounting, Canada’s unions are mobilizing hundreds of workers and labour leaders to Parliament Hill to meet with MPs and senators.

Decades of sitting at the bargaining table have taught me that no one understands the issues—and solutions—like workers themselves. They are champing at the bit to share their stories and experiences with decision-makers. For all our sakes, parliamentarians would do well to take heed.

Workers in the care sector are being stretched thin after giving their all during the pandemic. The Prime Minister will soon meet with premiers to discuss health funding, something Canada’s unions have been calling for for a long time. Our care systems are at breaking point, with one in four people unable to access the care they need for themselves or a loved one. Our future depends on investment in care now. Care workers’ calls for meaningful investments in Canada’s public care system will improve Canadians’ health and well-being and make life more affordable, building resiliency across our society and economy. By increasing health transfers and working with provinces and territories to implement care programs such as universal public pharmacare, dental care for all, universal mental health care; and public long-term care, Canada can find a path out of the care crisis.

Energy sector workers know the impacts of climate change better than most of us. Many live and work in communities ravaged by the climate crisis, and know the need to diversify our energy sector. These workers need a plan for our economy to realize the opportunities of new jobs in these emerging sectors, which is why they are urging decision-makers to invest in unionized, sustainable jobs that protect their quality of life, employment, and communities.

Unions have deep roots in communities across the country, and the gains that unionized workers make benefit society as a whole. Workers are urging parliamentarians to protect their rights by passing strong anti-scab legislation. Banning replacement workers will ensure work stoppages do not become long, drawn-out battles and will help tamp down employers’ outsized power in the bargaining process.

Our economy is skewed towards a wealthy few at the top, and too often, it is their voices that dominate the public discourse. But it is unionized workers who build a strong middle class by fighting for family-supporting wage increases, pensions, and social programs that help people keep working, such as health care and child care. Decision-makers would be wise to remember this as they hear from workers from ridings across the country on February 7.

Bea Bruske is president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC

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