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Danny Cavanagh: Labour Day 2020

Labour Day 2016 in Halifax. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As always, I am proud to again celebrate Labour’s accomplishments and re-energize for the year and the challenges to come.

While most celebrations will be virtual, Labour Day it still remains one of the most important days of the year. It is important because it is an opportunity to celebrate the ways the labour movement has improved the day-to-day lives of working people. It’s a day to celebrate when we work together, we can make a difference, that our collective work towards a common goal has the power to make a positive change for everyone.

Our Federation can look back on the past year and know that we worked hard in our workplaces and communities to make life better for all Nova Scotians.

COVID-19 has been very hard for workers across the country—those who have lost loved ones, those who were put out of work, and those who were deemed essential and had to keep working at great risk to themselves and to their families. Many of us are still mourning those workers who paid the ultimate price and succumbed to COVID-19.

We already knew that workers in Canada were struggling to make ends meet, often living paycheque to paycheque. Before COVID-19 hit, many Canadians were already on the brink. of Almost 50 per cent Canadians said they were $200 away from insolvency. Nearly six million people have applied for COVID-19 emergency benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.

Because unions worked with the federal government, we made sure that workers had CERB, changes to EI, and that paid sick days are supported by the federal government.

We called for inquiries into long term care, better health care, education and much more. Unions aren’t just about negotiating with employers. We advocate politically so everyone can have fair wages, safer workplaces, pensions for retirement, and dignity at work. Workers are an important part of the local community and economy because that’s where they spend their paycheques. Their incomes support local businesses that create local jobs and bolster the local tax base that adds to everyone’s quality of life through public services.

Now is time for a government that’s committed to creating good jobs. A government willing to invest in more public services, services that working families need. A government that will help more people save for retirement so they can live their final years in dignity, not a hardship. Government that understand austerity is a race to the bottom driven by the rich and elite in society.

Public sector unions in this province faced serious attacks from the McNeil Liberal Government with what many called union-busting tactics that for the most part didn’t work. It is painfully apparent that the Liberal Government will again try to sell the austerity agenda to Nova Scotians. That will be a dangerous move with them now looking for a new leader and an election around the corner. With the federal government looking to implement better things for all workers like sick leave, a revamp to EI, and changes to the Federal Labour code that will put any new leader into a bad position if they choose more needless attacks on workers that will have a negative impact on local and provincial economies.

Going forward, especially after COVID-19, it is clear that employers and governments must listen to workers. Workers have the right to participate in decisions that affect their health and safety at work. Occupational health and safety is one of the more important aspects of work. COVID 19 has brought to the forefront many aspects, with the major one the complete mess that long term care is in. 

That’s why governments and employers must engage with unions because they are dedicated to worker safety. Unions are in touch with front line staff in ways that employers and government regulators are not. They must work with us to strengthen workplace health and safety committees: These joint employer and worker committees are key to addressing work site health and safety issues. Let’s make sure they are actively meeting, just like the law says.

Let us abide by the precautionary principle: The foundation of occupational health and safety is to err on the side of safety. This is especially important in the time of a pandemic when COVID-19 can be so easily transmitted. No one should have to work without the necessary, certified personal protective equipment. The Nova Scotia Safety Branch should be engaged in doing upfront inspections to ensure worksites are in compliance with COVID-19 and public health directives.

The Government of Nova Scotia has to get tough on employers who do not implement public health directives and ensure safe workplaces and we must amend the Labour Standards Act: Workers need job protection if they have to self-isolate or take care of family. The government should include paid sick days, with an additional fourteen (14) paid sick days during the event of a pandemic crisis. We need to eliminate sick notes for all workers and modernize our Workers’ Compensation coverage so if a worker contracts the virus it will be treated as a presumptive illness and they will automatically receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. The 25% of workers not covered by Workers’ Compensation in Nova Scotia should be covered. The right to refuse unsafe work has to be respected because no worker wants to transmit the virus to their family.

As we celebrate Labour Day, let’s remember we can all make a difference in making life better for Nova Scotians. We won’t be coming together in the streets to make noise, but workers are nonetheless organizing for a better society. We can build better communities with a strong, sustainable and inclusive recovery plan that centers workers.

We can do this at our workplaces and in our communities. So, on this Labour Day we have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to do. On behalf of the Executive Council, staff and over 70,000 affiliated members of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour I would like to wish all an enjoyable and safe Labour Day weekend.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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