For more than two centuries, Canada’s unions have fought for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Things many Ontarians and Canadians take for granted – such as health and safety legislation, weekends, paid vacation time, and parental leave – would not have been possible without an organized labour movement and a legal structure that permitted free and fair collective bargaining.
The Supreme Court of Canada has recently affirmed the necessity of unions, saying, “Individual employees typically lack the power to bargain and pursue workplace goals with their more powerful employers. Only by banding together in collective bargaining associations, thus strengthening their power with their employer, can they meaningfully pursue workplace goals.”
Especially given the rise of precarious work, unions are as necessary today as ever.
As an affiliate of the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, Catholic teachers are proud to be part of a broad labour movement that works to enhance working conditions and workers’ rights for everyone.
More than one-fifth of workers in Ontario are now in “precarious” jobs, which are generally low-wage, part-time and/or temporary, and without access to benefits, employer pension plans, or union protection. Certain groups are more susceptible to precarious work, such as women, racial minorities, immigrants, Indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. While some people seek out flexible work arrangements to suit their lifestyle, most precarious work is the result of changing economic conditions and attitudes among employers. We believe government, employers, and the labour movement should co-operate to support growth in industries that demand skilled labour and offer full-time, well-paid employment.
The popular myth is that most minimum wage workers are teenagers who live with their parents. However, research in Ontario shows that many minimum wage workers, and a majority of low-wage workers, are actually adults. They are parents raising children, newcomers and immigrants, and new graduates trying to break into the workforce and establish a career.
We welcome the recent increase in the minimum wage, as well as the commitment to future increases in line with the rate of inflation. However, the current level is still not enough to provide minimum wage workers with a living wage. Working full time on minimum wage produces a salary that is still below the poverty line – and that’s assuming full-time hours are available, and that the wage is only supporting a single person. Therefore, we have joined many other organizations in calling for an immediate increase to $15 per hour.
Government, employers, academic institutions, and unions must work together to help young people make successful transitions from school to work. One of our main concerns should be ensuring that work and training opportunities are fair and equitable.
Unpaid internships are unfair. Even if some internships offer tangible non-monetary benefits (which they often do not), they are not a viable option for people from low-income backgrounds or who are otherwise marginalized. Unpaid interns also do not contribute to or benefit from vital programs such as the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, or workers’ compensation. In most cases, unpaid internships are already prohibited under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. We should continue to strengthen and enforce the law.
We are also concerned about youth job programs that focus primarily on entrepreneurship. While Ontarians value initiative and ingenuity, it is not fair to depend on young people to create their own job opportunities. We all benefit when young people are given meaningful opportunities for training, employment, and advancement.
It may be the 21st century, but we are still dealing with inequities between men and women when it comes to the workplace. According to Statistics Canada, women earned just 75.3 per cent compared to men (based on average weekly wages of all full- and part-time workers) in 2014. The gap is more pronounced for Indigenous and racialized women, and those with disabilities. In dollars and cents, the Canadian gender pay gap is just over $8,000 annually, whereas the annual gender pay gap globally is $4,000.
While women in unionized workplaces are protected against differential pay structures, pay equity is about more than that. It is really about the proper valuation of work typically performed by women, and finding innovative ways to value women’s seniority and work history without inadvertently penalizing them for leaving the workforce to raise families.
Ontario has comprehensive legislation to address pay equity, namely the Human Rights Code, the Pay Equity Act, and the Employment Standards Act. But unions have offered the only significant protections against the gender wage gap in Canada. The ongoing advocacy by the labour movement for a national child care strategy and reduced precarious and temporary work are key to eliminating the gap for all women.
21st Century Workplace
The Ontario Ministry of Labour has launched a review of the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. The goal is to consider how our labour laws can be reformed to better reflect the realities of the 21st century workplace. Read OECTA’s submission to the Changing Workplaces Review.
Position papers and briefs on other key labour issues