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April 28th marks the Day of Mourning for those who have died on the job. On May 1st, we celebrated International Workers Day. Against this backdrop, 470-and-counting of the world’s lowest-paid workers died on the job last week, as the building they were ordered to continue working in collapsed one day after it showed signs of severe structural damage.
This unnecessary catastrophe is commonplace in countries where people are considered expendable in the blind pursuit of profit; where corporations have no accountability to the countries they do business in; where a worker’s only labour right is the right-to-work.
The human tragedy in Bangladesh is a stark reminder of what happens when labour standards are lacking. While the working environment in Canada does not compare to that of Bangladesh, it is hard to ignore that we are headed closer toward this path rather than further from it.
Earlier this month, the lid blew off the Canada foreign worker training program; a federal program which allows companies to bring in foreign workers at reduced wages, benefits, and job security to do work that supposedly no Canadians have the skills to perform. With over 4,000 companies using this program, including Rogers communications, Tim Hortons, and Walmart – it is evident that many, if not most of these companies have been using this program to circumvent established labour standards.
We in Canada have these standards for a reason, and should not be creating legal methods of bypassing them. It’s important to recall that we prosper from regulations that govern workplace health and safety standards thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of Canadians who banded together into unions and collectively demanded better than the exact type of working conditions still prevalent in Bangladesh.
Unions continue to be instrumental in protecting worker safety concerns. For proof, look no further than the jail guards in Alberta who refused back-to-work orders until their safety concerns were addressed. One of the points of contention in ACFO’s collective agreement proposal awaiting an arbitration decision is the expansion of harassment provisions to include all forms of harassment, including bullying, intimidation, and other physical threats that create an unsafe workplace.
So, when our elected officials draft legislation to weaken our collective bargaining rights, such as with back-to-work legislation, Bill C-377, right-to-work laws, or the 200 other restrictive labour laws passed since 1982, we have to ask how it leads to the betterment of society.
Those who have come before us have fought for our right to expect safety in the workplace. How many more tragedies do we need to mourn before we realize that it is time for us to pick up the torch and speak for those who have no voice?
The only way to protect workers, both foreign and domestic, is to hold these multi-nationals accountable for ensuring the basic human rights of worker safety and fair treatment. I urge you all to write to your Member of Parliament demanding laws which ensure the companies that do business in Canada afford their employees the same labour standards that we expect in our country.
The arms of our moral compass are balanced upon compassion. As Canadians let’s not let this be the time that we are without moral direction.