Canada’s unions have a plan to move us forward

September 25, 2020

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in The Hill Times

As we transition from reacting to COVID-19 to living with the virus, Canada’s unions are providing a clear blueprint for a robust recovery that leaves no one behind and addresses the inequities laid bare by the pandemic.

Workers and their families have been hit hard by this crisis. Practically overnight, millions of jobs disappeared or were furloughed. Despite the slow reopening, millions of people are still searching for work. With small businesses shuttering and many large corporations declaring bankruptcy, some jobs are gone for good.

Canada’s unions worked closely with the federal government from the beginning, advocating for immediate supports. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit kept people afloat amidst the uncertainty and anxiety of those early weeks and months.

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy also helped maintain ties between employers and workers, but take-up was slow. Some employers started to complain that workers were rejecting work and staying on the CERB.

Rather than being a fault of government aid, that some workers preferred to stay home and try to survive on $2,000 a month is a condemnation of the precarity and low wages that far too many workers in this country are experiencing.

In fact, even before COVID-19 hit, almost 50 percent of Canadians said they were on the brink of insolvency. This includes many of the workers who were deemed essential and who were called on to work extra hours at great risk, rewarded with a couple of dollars extra an hour for risking themselves and their families to keep our communities going (extra dollars that many employers have since clawed back, despite the ever-present virus and despite significant profits in certain sectors).

Given that a majority of these workers also have no access to sick leave or benefits, they are left even more vulnerable during a health crisis such as the one we face.

This government has a considerable task ahead. In its upcoming speech from the Throne, it will lay out a path that purportedly aims to benefit all Canadians. Canada’s unions intend to make sure that it lives up to that promise.

Unless we invest in programs and services that address the gaps in our society, we will fail to learn the lessons of this pandemic.

Canada’s unions are putting forth a made-in-Canada plan that is rooted in our way of doing things. We know what American-style cuts and austerity can do to a nation; we needn’t look very far to see how things can go horribly awry when we are in it for ourselves.

This is why we are calling on all levels of government to invest. It’s time to replace lost jobs with better ones by kickstarting the economy with shovel-ready projects and by investing in green infrastructure. It’s time to support care work, including those who educate our youth and those who care for others. And it’s time that all workers have access to paid sick leave and are paid a living wage. Workers also deserve permanent reforms to employment insurance, disability benefits, education and training, as well as retirement security.

We are also calling for a strengthened public health system that includes bolstered funding in the areas of mental health, home care, and long-term care, as well as a long-awaited single-payer, national pharmacare plan.

It is our responsibility to make sure our social services are ready to catch people as they fall. Canada’s economic, health and social goals are inseparable. It’s time to disaster-proof our nation.

We are on the cusp of meaningful social progress. Let’s seize the moment.

Hassan Yussuff is the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow him on Twitter @Hassan_Yussuff

Related Articles

End-of-year unemployment data shows need for continued support for workers

“Even as the vaccine roll-out begins, we can see that the tough times aren’t behind us yet,” said Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff. “The end-of-year unemployment data remind us that strong government support continues to be a vital lifeline for workers and their families who are struggling through the economic shock of the pandemic.” The December Labour Force Survey,…
Read More

Lessons from 2020: The pandemic brought out the best in Canada’s workers

“Canada’s unions are marking the end of 2020 by looking back on all that has been accomplished to protect workers and their families through the COVID-19 pandemic. The world has been forever changed, but people across Canada have come together to focus on our collective good. Though the pandemic is not over and there is continued uncertainty, I have no…
Read More

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…
Read More