The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists
Volume 19, Number 3 ~ Fall 2012
Taking a stand
for workplace safety
Laurie Sabourin, In
expect to go to work, do your job in a safe environment and return home to your
family at the end of your workday. What happens when your employer doesn’t want
to work with you to make that happen? Well, if you are a member of a union, you
take your employer to task. That’s exactly what the correctional officers of
Local 248 did at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC).
correctional officers work at the detention centre, with close to 80 officers
working each day.
started out as a typical day at the jail in mid-August, until officers reported
a metal object missing from inside the walls of the facility. Nobody knew where
this metal object could have gone or who had it. Officers know this metal object
in the hands of an inmate has the potential to be fashioned into a weapon or
other dangerous device, putting inmates and staff at the facility in danger.
this metal object, a search of the facility had to occur. The correctional
officers asked they be allowed to wear protective vests when conducting the
cell-by-cell search for the object.
Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) the employer has a
responsibility to take all reasonable precautions for the protection of their
workers (Sec. 25, Sub 2(h)) and ensure all equipment required by the Act or
regulations is provided, maintained in good condition and used properly by
workers (Sec. 25, Sub. 1(a)(b)(d)). The officers believed the vests were a
reasonable precaution for their protection.
where the story begins. Correctional officers face unknown dangers everyday
walking their beat behind the walls of the institutions. But this is different:
it’s now not an unknown danger, the risk has been upped by the missing metal
piece. The object needs to be found or at least the institution needs to be
searched to verify it is no longer a danger to the men and women who work there.
Workers have the right to refuse work they believe may endanger their health and
safety under the OHSA, but they weren’t refusing. They just wanted to be
Correctional officers at HWDC said they would conduct the search but only with
their protective gear: protective Kevlar vests which were already issued by the
employer. The vests would help protect the men and women from being stabbed if
the metal object had been fashioned into a weapon. Management refused to
acknowledge this risk and ordered the search to be conducted without protective
vests. This produced a stalemate. Management then stopped the officers from
reporting for duty and refused to pay them. Subsequently, managers were brought
in to HWDC from other facilities across Ontario to perform the duties of the
correctional officers. The officers continued to report to duty each and every
day, and continued to request to wear their vests to conduct the required
search of the institution. Each day they were refused.
Negotiations between the local and management continued each day but did not
produce any results. After a week with no agreement reached, management insisted
on imposing a “no work, no pay” penalty and other disciplinary measures for the
time the correctional officers were denied access to their duties. The local
would not agree to any disciplinary action towards their members for upholding
their health and safety rights.
information picket was held on August 23 outside HWDC. Correctional staff from
across the province attended to show strength and solidarity. It was at this
time officers across the province donned their own protective vest inside their
facilities while conducting their day to day duties to support their colleagues
Monday, August 27 hundreds of Correctional Officers from across the province
demonstrated at Queen’s Park. There was considerable news coverage and support
from Opposition MPPs at the rally. Dan Sidsworth, Chair of the OPSEU Corrections
MERC and OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas led a delegation into the
legislature where they met with Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety
and Correctional Services (MCSCS). The Minister promised a further meeting to
resolve the issue.
Unprecedented support was shown from every corner of the province. Monetary
donations started to arrive for the 200+ officers at Local 248 who were without
a paycheque because they were standing up to their employer. Correctional
officers across the province knew this was not an isolated incident. Many locals
had gone through similar disputes and knew this was going to be “the fight” that
had to be fought.
Wednesday, August 29, the union was left with no choice but to withdraw from the
Ministry Employee Relations Committee, including all MERC sub-committees
(excluding the Health and Safety Committee). The union was adamant that officers
have the ability to stand up for health and safety in the workplace with no
month after the dispute began, an agreement was reached between OPSEU and the
MCSCS. In the settlement the employees would return to work and any discipline
or reduction in pay would be subject to arbitration before the Grievance
Settlement Board. In addition, Correctional Officers in every institution across
Ontario will now be allowed to wear their protective vests at any time during
the course of their duties.
Correctional officers across the province will continue to put their health and
safety first. Going home alive at the end of their shift is their number one
comes the bride
Labour - last of a three-part series
Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity
two issues of In Solidarity have featured articles exposing deplorable working
conditions for children: one article focused on the gold mines of Mali, and the
other on the agricultural industry of the southern US. Sadly, poor conditions
for children don’t only exist in the workplace. Another shocking exposé
unearthed at Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) states that nearly half of all
women in Yemen are married as children. Thankfully, human rights workers are
fighting for legislation outlawing early marriage and setting the minimum age to
off one’s girls when they are young is a sure-fire way to keep them from being
educated, keep them in weakened health, and keep them relegated to second-class
citizens. For those of us with daughters under the age of 18 (or, actually, any
age), those of us who have been young, or those of us with sound social
consciences, treating young women this way is unacceptable.
released in December 2011 follows the treatment and lifelong damage to girls who
are forced to marry young. More than thirty Yemeni girls and women provided
Human Rights Watch their accounts of being forced into child marriages by their
families. The researchers recorded how these young women were forced to
relinquish control over the timing and frequency of child bearing and other
important aspects of their lives. The young women noted that marrying early had
cut short their education, and some said they had been subjected to marital rape
and domestic abuse. There is no legal minimum age for girls to marry in Yemen.
The report notes that many girls are forced into marriage, some as young as 8.
According to Nadya Khalife, a women’s rights advocate researcher, the country’s
political climate has deemed issues such as these a low priority. Khalife’s
desire is for the minimum marriage age to be set at 18 so that “girls and women
who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to
shaping Yemen’s future.”
Shockingly, Yemeni government and United Nations data show that approximately 14
per cent of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, and 52 per cent are
married before age 18. Girls are sometimes forced to marry much older men.
Conversely, boys are seldom forced into child marriages.
girls and women interviewed also said that they were often exposed to
gender-based violence, including domestic abuse and sexual violence. Some girls
and women told Human Rights Watch that their husbands, in-laws, and other
members of the husband’s extended household verbally or physically assaulted
be done about this injustice? According to Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s future
government, can, within Islamic law, show its commitment to gender equality. The
government should also create public awareness of the harm child marriage
causes. In addition, the Yemeni government and its international donors should
also ease girls’ and women’s access to education, reproductive health
information and services, and protection from domestic violence.
the hold up? This idea has been suppressed in the last fifteen years based on
religious grounds. In 2009, some Yemeni lawmakers withdrew requests to set 17 as
the minimum age for young women to marry, arguing that a minimum age would be
contrary to Sharia (Islamic law).
Ironically, other countries in the Middle East and North Africa recognize Sharia
as a source of law, but nearly all have set a minimum age for marriage for both
boys and girls. Setting the marriage age at 18 or higher conforms to
international standards and treaties that define a child as anyone under 18.
Thankfully, United Nations advocates in charge of children’s and women’s rights
have recommended a minimum age of 18 for marriage.
Hopefully, sometime soon, Yemen’s lawmakers will make good on their commitment
to their existing allegiances with a number of international human rights
organizations. These organizations explicitly prohibit child marriage, yet
Yemen’s laws fail to reflect this. In the end, the interests and safety of the
young women of Yemen need to be first and foremost in the minds, laws, and
customs of the country. It wouldn’t hurt, either, if those of us in North
America spread the word of these injustices. z
Realizing human rights and honouring the past
Wade Stevenson, Rainbow
June 13, 2012 was a
landmark day for Human Rights in Ontario. Bill 33, Toby’s Act, amended the
Ontario Human Rights Code with respect to gender identity and gender expression
as clearly defined prohibited grounds of discrimination.
The Bill is named after
the late Toby Dancer: an accomplished trans activist, pianist and jazz musician
who fought to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by the trans
In Ontario it is now
illegal to discriminate against people who identify as Transgender and Gender
Variant. This major change comes after years of lobbying by community activists
and select politicians. The change marks a growing recognition that Transgender
people have human rights that must be protected. In many parts of the world this
is not true, so for Transgender and Gender Variant people this is a watershed
moment in history. It is also important for union members. We now have a duty to
learn about the discrimination faced by Gender Variant/Transgender people, it
effects and methods to combat it.
In November 2012, the
Rainbow Alliance will be marking the International Transgender Day of
Remembrance, with a public forum at the Wellesley Regional office in Toronto.
They will raise awareness about this important day.
The Transgender Day of
Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to
anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honour
Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our
Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s
murder, like most anti-transgender murder cases, has yet to be solved.
Although not every person
represented during this Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgendered—that
is, as a transsexual, cross dresser, or otherwise gender-variant—each was a
victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.
We live in times more
sensitive than ever to hatred-based violence, especially since the events of
September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender
hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one
person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless
of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.
The Transgender Day of
Remembrance serves several functions. First it raises public awareness of hate
crimes against Transgendered, and Gender Variant people, an action that current
media doesn’t perform. Secondly, the International Transgender Day of
Remembrance publicly mourns and honours the lives of our brothers and sisters
who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect
for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. It also reminds
non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and
lovers. Finally, the Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step
forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by
Earlier this past year,
Kyle Scanlon, the Education, Training and Research Coordinator for the 519
Community Centre in Toronto, was found dead in his home after taking his own
life. Kyle worked to redefine the understanding of Transgender needs in Ontario
and the rest of Canada through projects such as the Trans Pulse Project and
Trans Access. As a community leader Kyle had worked with and educated the major
players about Trans needs, but in the end was left feeling unable to turn to
others for the support he needed.
While Ontario has made
strides to improve resources, much is yet to be done. In fact, 77 per cent of
people in Ontario surveyed by the Trans Pulse Project had seriously considered
suicide; this is much higher than the national average. Transphobic violence,
discrimination and hatred also contribute to this high percentage. According to
the Trans Pulse Project, transgender-identified people who have experienced this
are twice as likely to consider suicide as others. Youth are even more
During this past year the
Rainbow Alliance consulted with the Equity Unit on the creation of a Gender
Identity Lunch and Learn. This educational was conceived from a resolution
passed at Convention calling on the creation of this vital course. The aim is to
educate union members on the concept of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.
Hopefully the knowledge gained in this course will help union members break down
barriers around Gender Identity and Gender Expression in the union environments
and elsewhere. This course may be requested from OPSEU and delivered to the
members at union meetings, educationals and even in the workplace at Lunch and
Learn sessions. z
To learn more about The
International Transgender Day of Remembrance, The Trans Pulse Project and Toby’s
Mom? What’s a
Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity
On a recent train trip to
Chicago, my kids and I were forced to snack on train food. Our train was two
hours late, and my provisions had run short, so the offerings of the café car
were our only option. I looked at the menu, and I suggested a small box of donut
holes. My eleven-year-old son gave me a blank look and asked, “What’s a donut
hole?” I couldn’t believe it. It took me a while, but I realized that my kids
(and I’m sure many others) only knew these tasty treats as Timbits.
As the years pass, I
struggle to stay “cool” or at least relevant; however, many of my references are
outdated pretty quickly. I was checking out one of my favourite reads, Mental
Floss magazine, when I found an article on pop culture references our kids (or
anyone under fifty) are likely not to recognize. Check them out and see if you
get the references:
Mutt and Jeff: These 1907
comic strip characters, one tall and one short, became synonymous with two
people who were physical opposites. I’ve also heard it used to describe a pair,
often boys, who get themselves into trouble.
Anita Bryant: You may
remember Anita Bryant as a spokeswoman for Florida orange juice during the
1970s. Unfortunately for her, she gained wider attention when she urged people
to support a local ordinance that discriminated based on sexual orientation.
After that, the moniker “Anita Bryant” was reserved for those who were
intolerant of the sexual orientation of others.
Twiggy: At 90 pounds,
fashion model Twiggy set a new standard for models (and beauty) in the
mid-sixties. Her name became synonymous with desired thinness coining such
comparisons as “She’s no Twiggy.”
Archie Bunker: Calling
someone an “Archie Bunker” was synonymous with calling him or her a bigot. The
TV character was bumbling and lovable, but he was still a bigot.
Eddie Haskell: After
numerous runs of Leave it to Beaver, many used the term “Eddie Haskell” to mean
“slimy individual.” If you’ve never seen the Eddie character in action, check
him out. Your skin will crawl with his weasel-like dealings with the Cleaver
This is just a partial
list from Mental Floss, but there are many fading references we could add to the
list such as describing a family as a “Brady Bunch” or rock and roll teens as
“Wayne and Garth.” How about describing someone as having a “Dolly Parton”
figure, or figuring out who is the “Mary” and who is the “Rhoda”? What about our
fear of “land sharks” or our desire to rock out with the “Schmenge Brothers”? I
urge you to give Mental Floss a try (www.mentalfloss.com or available in print
if you’d prefer). I’ll guarantee you’ll find their articles a refreshing break
from the ordinary.
Also from Mental Floss,
here are sounds our kids are likely to not recognize:
The sound of
a rotary phone being dialled
The clack of
a manual typewriter
The sound of
The pop of a
The whirr of
a TV dial being manually spun
of a needle hitting a vinyl record
ding-ding of a full service gas station bell
tick-tick-tick of a film projector (like the kind we used to have in school)
And here are some modern
antiques our kids won’t recognize:
that goes in the middle of a 45 record
key” beer opener
glass pop bottles
from beer cans
A phone book
A stand up
Lastly, here’s one that
many of us have never thought of: Millions of kids working with Microsoft
computers will hit the little “Save” icon at the top left of the screen without
ever knowing what the actual symbol represents (just in case, it's the graphic
of a 3.5 inch floppy disk, something that hasn't been in wide-spread use for
nearly ten years). z
An OPSEU Moment - Sean
O’Flynn grew up in Dublin, Ireland and spent two years in a seminary preparing
for missionary work in Africa. He ended up quitting the seminary and went to
England where he got a job working in the Midland coal mines. He believed by
having a trade he could use it as his ticket to Canada.
his job working underground he won a scholarship to Oxford’s prestigious
Catholic Workers College. From there he graduated with a diploma in Economics
and Political Science. He then took a B.A. in Wales, followed it up with
part-time studies and teaching stints, and then came to Canada. He studied
industrial relations, got a master’s in education and then landed a job at
Community College in Welland in 1969.
started teaching in the country’s first academic labour studies program just as
his fellow teachers were just learning about unionism. He joined the drive to
organize through the Civil Service Association of Ontario (CSAO).
he ran successfully for the regional executive on a platform of turning CSAO
into a full-fledged union and focusing toward the industrial-based Ontario
Federation of Labour. By the end of 1974 he was elected for one term as 1st
Vice-President/Treasurer of CSAO. In 1978 O’Flynn became the President of OPSEU,
defeating his long-time friend Charles Darrow by 14 votes.
never afraid to take on the employer. O’Flynn steered the union through its
first three strikes – paramedics, community college support staff, and
correctional officers. When correctional officers staged a three-day wildcat
strike for status as a distinct bargaining category, Sean supported them. This
support landed him in jail, sentenced to 35 days for contempt of court.
served as President of OPSEU for six-and-a-half years.
Is WSIB breaking
Documenting workers’ experiences with compensation
A new group, “Legal
Workers Against Illegal Cuts” needs your help. If you believe that you have been
wronged by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), this group
wants to hear from you. They are collecting, into a booklet, real-life examples
of workers’ experiences with WSIB from the past two years. The stories will be
used in presentations and submissions to WSIB, system stakeholders, and
government policy makers to try to improve treatment of injured workers in
Ontario. The organization has approached OPSEU and other unions to ask for
assistance gathering these examples.
Legal Workers Against
Illegal Cuts is made up of injured worker representatives from community legal
clinics, the private bar and other organizations. Every day they hear terrible
stories from workers about their experiences with WSIB. These organizations
assist mostly non-unionized workers in the same way OPSEU provides assistance to
our members: getting compensation, benefits, or health care through WSIB.
At least a third of
Ontario’s workers (including many OPSEU members) are not covered by WSIB. We say
this is wrong. All workers should be covered and all employers should pay into
the system. Not only should the system be expanded, the system needs to be
fixed. Many OPSEU members who are covered by WSIB have had their legitimate
claims denied and experience other difficulties that require them to turn to the
union for help. OPSEU agrees that this group’s idea to collect workers’
experiences to help fix the system is important and can help make it better for
The workers compensation
system is funded solely by employers and is intended to compensate workers who
are injured and made ill from work. When the system was established almost 100
years ago, workers gave up their right to sue employers in exchange for
compensation through this system. But now, workers and their advocates believe
that WSIB is making decisions and cutting benefits in ways that breach the
original intention of the workers compensation system. There are allegations
that WSIB policies, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, and Tribunal case
law are all being violated.
Here are examples these
benefits across the board;
benefits to older injured workers because the WSIB says the only reason they are
disabled is their age. This means that injured workers who were healthy before
their injuries don’t get benefits because of their age;
reversals of compensation after benefits are supposed to be “locked-in”, even
when workers’ conditions are worse not better;
Non-Economic Loss (NEL) awards based on non-work-related conditions that were
not affecting the worker before the workplace accident, in violation of WSIB
practice and policy;
reversals of entitlement;
findings of fact, such as concluding that a 63-year-old injured worker is able
to re-enter the workforce in a new field without retraining;
the number of oral hearings;
Resolution Officers (AROs) regularly addressing issues outside of the issues
being appealed (i.e. AROs reversing initial entitlement in an appeal for ongoing
loss of earnings);
and zealous pursuit of “overpayments” and increased surveillance and
There is no reason why
WSIB should be withholding benefits from workers who are injured or made ill
from work. There is no crisis in the system. If the WSIB wants more money it
should increase the number of workplaces covered and thus the number of
employers contributing. WSIB should also increase the amount employers
contribute to the fund; employers are earning 2012 dollars and yet they are
paying 1980s prices for workers’ compensation coverage. Shamefully, employers
now pay less for compensation than ever. In 1996, employers paid $3.20 per $100
of payroll. Now they pay $2.40.
Legal Workers Against
Illegal Cuts hopes that by collecting workers’ stories, they can gather examples
of what is actually happening to workers out there and use those examples to
improve the compensation system.
What can you do?
Share your experience
Legal Workers Against
Illegal Cuts is gathering recent case examples of the WSIB’s improper and
bad-faith decisions. They are asking workers and representatives who believe
they’ve been treated unfairly to provide anonymous, short case examples of the
WSIB’s bad decisions in the past two years. If you would like to share your
experience, please forward your case example to email@example.com
If you would like to join
Legal Workers Against Illegal Cuts, please contact Marion Endicott, Injured
Workers’ Consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org z
Universal child care
Any union activist knows
there are several fundamental issues with Canadian society. Some of the issues
are attributed to government policy and cutbacks, while others have to do with
the general level of apathy of society’s members. I could use this space to
speak about many issues – the Quebec student strike, the Occupy Movement, the
long wait times for medical treatment and social services, the attack on our
pensions, the overcrowding and underfunding of the public school system and
correctional facilities, or the high debt load that post-secondary students are
faced with. Perhaps the above list should be considered my “to do” list for
future articles, but today’s article focuses on an issue that I feel is
important to the labour movement, the women’s movement, young workers, and young
families: Universal Child Care Subsidies.
Many people have heard me
speak to this topic. Admittedly, I was initially motivated at examining the
injustice when I was faced with the issue myself. Having two small children only
13 months apart is financially crippling. They are currently three and four
years old, and I work for less than $5.00 per hour after taxes. Employment
Insurance, CPP, etc., are deducted from my earnings and I write a cheque to a
licensed daycare provider for $1,600 a month. For anyone not wanting to do the
math, $1,600 per month equals almost $20,000 per year. My childcare costs are
more than any other single expense I have. Wow. There is something fundamentally
wrong with a society when a working parent must make the decision to stay home
and receive social assistance or return to work taking home less than half of
I know some of you reading
are thinking “So what?” Lots of families have to make choices. Families choose
to have the children. Why grumble about something that can’t be changed? This
response shows pure apathy. This response shows a passive acceptance of things
that can be changed because someone thinks, “It is what it is.”
There is a solution. We,
as unions and activists, need to keep pushing and advocating for universal child
care programs. Programs already exist in Quebec. The Universal Child Care
program in Quebec offers affordable child care to every child and family at a
cost of $7 per day per child. This means that workers are returning to the
labour force after their parental leaves and are struggling less than other
families across Canada.
A Universal Child Care
Program places value on the most vulnerable members of our society: the
children. Providing children with early education is essential in nurturing
their future potential. At an early age, children learn the skills that will
help them throughout life, skills like those outlined by Robert Fulghum, author
of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: playing fair, sharing,
not taking things that don’t belong to you, cleaning up after yourself, living a
balanced life, and working together.
Universal child care
programs also protect children. When children are regularly visible in society,
they are less likely to be abused and victimized. They are more likely to eat
balanced and nutritious food and to develop appropriate social skills that help
them throughout life.
Women have fought long and
hard to be treated with equality, yet the current structure of government
funding continues to marginalize women. There continues to be an imbalance in
wages, and more often than not women are the lower wage earners. Therefore, they
become primary caregivers who do not return to work after parental leaves, or
who return to part-time jobs simply because they cannot afford the child care
required to return to their careers. Ironically, these careers may still be
costing them thousands of dollars in student debt.
A society that says it
values children and values education, but then places licensed child care out of
reach for many families, forces parents to make the hard decision about
returning to the work force full time or doing the parenting juggle that so many
have to do. My sister-in-law calls her parenting style “high-five parenting.”
This means that she and her partner parent less as a cohesive family unit and
more as a tag team slapping high fives at the door when one comes in and the
other leaves. This parenting style is becoming all too common with people having
to give up full-time work and juggle two or three part-time jobs simply because
they can’t afford the child care to go back to a career that they spent years
and thousands of dollars in education to obtain.
In addition, we are losing
skilled workers in full-time jobs because the government is not willing to put
the money into a Universal Child Care Program. I wonder how much less would be
spent on social assistance if people could afford to work and have their
children in child care; and how much less could be spent on child welfare if
children and families were supported with child care facilities. I also wonder
how many meaningful early childhood education careers would be created. Without
being a mathematician, I have to surmise there would be a return on investment
if Universal Child Care was implemented throughout Canada. More families could
afford to return to the work force, more jobs would be created and more
income-earning people equals more taxes collected and a stronger economy. The
children of today become the adults of tomorrow – tax-paying citizens, union
members, and society’s future.
This is a labour issue.
This is a young workers’ issue, and this is a women’s issue. Unions have pushed
government and society a long way in the women’s movement, but it’s not time to
stop! Talk to your labour leaders, and your local politicians. Start putting
pressure on government to support its commitment to families and children…then
demand that they prove it. z
Aboriginal vs. Indigenous
Nancy Hart-Day, Local 234
Using the right name for Aboriginal people shows respect and
shows that you care. It combats racism and opens doors for discussion and
learning. I am still learning about my own heritage, culture and what it means
to me. I self identify as a Métis, two-spirited woman. This is not easy to
explain, but it is a description of who I am. It is not until I sit and discuss
this with others that I am able to explain my heritage and lineage. Even the
word Métis has different meanings to different people.
For some Native people the word Aboriginal also has a
different meanings. Wikipedia defines Indigenous as a word that “primarily
refers to ethnic groups that have historical ties to groups that existed in a
territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state, and which
normally preserve a degree of cultural and political separation from the
mainstream culture and political system of the nation state within the border of
which the indigenous group is located.”
Historically indigenous was used to describe animals and
plants, and later Aboriginal people. Many Aboriginal people dislike being
referred to as indigenous.
In my view, Indigenous people are those who have not yet been
colonized by the western world. I believe there very few people in North America
who have not been affected by colonization one way or another. There are people
in this world who are Indigenous to their land, cultures and boundaries
untouched by civilization and influenced by western cultural. They have their
own land, laws, rituals and behaviors that are often viewed as uncivilized.
Native people of this land are no longer indigenous people of Canada. We have
grown. We have become civilized. We are Aboriginals.
“Aborigine” comes from the Latin words “ab” meaning “from” and
“origine” meaning “beginning”. It expresses that Aboriginal people have been
there from the beginning of time. Aborigine is a noun for an Aboriginal person
(male or female). Aboriginal People are all indigenous people of Canada,
including Status Indians, Non-Status Indian, Métis and Inuit people. We are
native people of this land who have been colonized and influenced by western
culture or society. Our heritage is that we were indigenous people of Canada and
our lineage can show that. However we no longer live as indigenous people within
our culture and society. Between residential schools, reserves and other forms
of dislocation forced upon our people, we have had no choice but to adapt to our
surroundings to survive. We fight for the lands that were taken away from us, we
fight for the treaties that were not honored, but we are not longer indigenous
to our lands. We may practice and honor many of our traditions, rituals and
stories to keep the memories and culture alive but we do not live as indigenous
Right or wrong, we are a people who are involved with
mainstream culture and the political system of our nation. We have many nations
within our own group of people. How can we be called indigenous people when we
are a civilized nation fighting for our rights and freedoms? We are a society, a
nation of people, who are fighting to be treated and recognized as other
communities within our country and provinces.
To me, Aboriginal includes ALL people, who self-identify as
Metis, First Nation, Status or Non Status Indian and Inuit people. I for one, do
not want to live as an Indigenous person, but I am damn proud to be Aboriginal.
Darlene Kaboni, Local 656
Aboriginal is defined as: 1) an original inhabitant of any
land; one of the aborigines of Australia; 2) an animal or a plant native to the
Indigenous is defined as: 1) originating in and characteristic
of a particular region or country, and is often followed by the word “to”, for
example “the plants indigenous to Canada” or “the indigenous peoples of Canada”;
2) innate; inherent; natural (also usually followed by “to” as “feelings
indigenous to human beings.”
The two words are synonymous to each other but as language and
political qualifications progress they develop their own meanings and criteria,
so aboriginal and indigenous varies in meaning depending on connotation. Using
the term “indigenous peoples” can refer to peoples living in an area prior to
colonization by a state but who do not identify with the dominant nation. What
makes “indigenous” distinct is that it is considered positive and politically
correct to describe First Nations. The United Nations and its subsidiary
organizations prefer the term “indigenous” over other synonyms as it has
maintained a definite list of criteria that clears out any intentions of
discrimination or oppression, hence the United Nations Declaration the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples. Even prior to urbanization and industrialization that are
associated with western influence, these communities have established and
developed a society with a sustainable lifestyle, a ruling class and an economy.
The United Nations has defined “indigenous peoples” as
indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical
continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their
territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies
that prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. Despite the diversity of
indigenous peoples, they share common problems and issues in dealing with the
prevailing, or invading, society. They have concerns that their cultures are
being lost and that indigenous peoples suffer both discrimination and pressure
to assimilate into their surrounding societies.
On a more personal note, I was watching the documentary movie
Rabbit Proof Fence when I learned the term Aboriginal was created to join the
words “abnormal” and “original” to describe the aborigines of Australia. In
dictionary terms Aboriginal is defined “Aborigines of Australia.” Since learning
the origin of the term I have detested being called an Aboriginal but prefer to
identify as a “First Nations” person or indigenous. The Assembly of First
Nations also uses the term First Nations and I’m okay with it. I am glad it’s
not called the “Assembly of Aboriginals.”
I also realize that many First Nations people of Canada still
use the terms Indian, Native, and Aboriginal in identifying themselves but I’m
also aware that many are not comfortable with the terms and prefer First Nation
or Indigenous when self-identifying. z
note: Proof could not be found that the word “Aboriginal” is from the words
“abnormal” and “original”. That is believed to be a misconception.
Fair pay is fair play
Dora Robinson, Chair,
Provincial Women’s Committee
You would be hard pressed
to find anyone who would disagree with the statement that everyone deserves “a
fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” It is actually an old labour movement
slogan that goes back many years, as far back as the beginning of the 20th
century. It should be pretty obvious to working people that they deserve an
equitable and fair share of the pie in exchange for their labour. There were,
and still are, far too many examples of working people being exploited for their
labour, working for very little and under poor conditions. Unfortunately the
process of determining of what constitutes a fair wage is complicated by
determining fair for whom? Is it fair for the employer who “buys” labour or the
workers who “sell” labour?
Clearly there is evidence
of economic discrimination that can be proven when examining the wages of female
workers to their male counterparts. When compared with other forms of blatant
discrimination the wage discrimination rates are worse. The terrible reality is
that in Ontario women working full time over a full year make, on average, an
astonishing 29 per cent less than their male counterparts. If you are a
racialized woman, the figure grows to 36 per cent less than men. If you happen
to be an Aboriginal woman in this province, that figure explodes to 54 per cent
less than her male counterpart. If you are a disabled woman, the statistics are
workforce is made up of 70 per cent women. Of course being primary caregivers
for family is one reason that women find themselves in part-time positions, but
primarily it is due to the inability to find full-time work. Consequently, women
often carry more than one part-time job in order to survive, mostly low paying,
precarious work. Women outnumber men in the ten lowest-paying job categories in
treatment follows a woman her whole life. When she enters the workforce, she is
already earning far less than a man. When she reaches her retirement years, her
median retirement income is half that of men which leaves about 42 per cent of
retired women living in poverty in this province. Pay discrimination affects
women in every education level, of every age group, of every race in this
province. So what do we do about it?
In 1988, Ontario passed
the Ontario Pay Equity Act. The purpose of this legislation was to make sure
that Ontario was committed to ending pay discrimination. This was a triumph for
women throughout the province as it publicly acknowledged that there was a pay
In my opinion, there are
several reasons for the pay gap between men and women. First, women are and have
been paid less for different but comparable men’s work. The Pay Equity Act was
meant to address and correct the discrepancies in pay. This law was designed to
make the market do what it likes to say it does…pay all workers fairly.
Admittedly, there is a huge problem in Ontario with wide-spread non-compliance
with the law, so the pay gap persists. Perhaps the most depressing statistic is
that in 30 years, the wage gap has closed by about 9 cents…that’s not a whole
lot of progress from where I sit. It’s abysmal.
The second reason the pay
gap exists is because women face multiple barriers in gaining access to jobs
with higher pay where men dominate the field. In 1995, sadly, the Government of
Ontario scrapped the Ontario’s Employment Equity Act which existed to address
The problem today is that
the pay gap persists. Lack of employment equity legislation and lack of
compliance with the Pay Equity Act (which is the law) create an uphill battle in
the quest for economic justice for women. If we fast forward to today, in the
midst of all the “austerity” babble out there (that would have us believe that
somehow working people are responsible for the economic crisis of the world), we
hear those strident voices out there who would tell us that pay equity is a
luxury in this economic climate; a “costly frill” that interferes with the
prosperity of employers and global competitiveness.
This is simply untrue. Pay
Equity is the law in Ontario. This is not something Ontario’s women can live
without. By honouring pay equity commitments, employers can ensure that
Ontario’s workers have money in their pockets, money that they will spend in
their communities, money that will provoke prosperity in Ontario’s communities.
The United Nations 4th World Conference on Women has unequivocally stated that
equality for women and pay equity are not luxuries but a requirement for a
sustainable world economy.
Pay Equity is a
fundamental human right of Ontario’s women. We can be proud to belong to a union
that is part of the Equal Pay Coalition of Ontario. OPSEU recognizes the
necessary pursuit of pay equity through both legislation and collective
bargaining. In union workplaces like ours, pay equity is a negotiated process
but negotiated and maintained in a separate process from collective agreement
bargaining. All public sector employers and all private sector employers with 10
or more employees are required to achieve pay equity by elimination wage
discrimination and by maintaining discrimination-free wages into the future.
Pay Equity is not an easy
issue, and the Act is a complicated piece of legislation but there are resources
available for more information. Visit www.equalpaycoalition.org and find out
knowledgeable pay equity staff who work tirelessly on behalf of the pay equity
issue for our members. Ontario’s women are owed millions of dollars in pay
equity settlements as determined by the coalition. Think of the difference that
money would make in the lives of those working women and their families both now
and in their retirement years. That’s money on the table. It’s time to make real
progress on pay equity. It’s time to play fair. z
through the eyes of our youth
This year the 5th Annual
International Youth Day (IYD) conference was hosted by the OPSEU Provincial
Young Workers Committee (PYC). PYC Vice-Chair Sean Platt said the primary goal
of this year’s IYD event was to engage participants in the theme of economic
equality. “Our main goal was to look at worldwide issues and show how they
relate to the members’ workplaces and community,” Platt said. “This was achieved
through various activities and speakers. The committee hopes that people walk
away with a true understanding of exactly what ‘economic inequality’ means. We
gave participants the tools to bring back to their locals, which in turn helps
every member and every community member.”
The conference included
more than fifty young workers as well as staff and Executive Board Members from
across the province. They gathered in Toronto to gain knowledge on a variety of
topics including austerity, pensions, migrant workers, health and safety and
campaigns. By far this is the largest event for the PYC.
Vice-President/Treasurer Eddy Almeida opened the event with a passionate speech
about the future of OPSEU and the inclusion of young workers. Almeida reflected
on his own experience when achieving full-time employment as a young worker, and
his goal for the future of the youth in the audience: For young workers to work
in full-time jobs that pay a living wage. Almeida took the time to talk to the
group about OPSEU’s long history of working with and for young workers through
campaigns like “How Screwed Are You?” and how young workers were one of the
seven core groups of OPSEU as determined by the ongoing Social Mapping Project.
OPSEU Benefits Counsellor
Kim Macpherson spoke to the group about the proposed changes to pensions and why
it affects young workers. Too often, young workers delay putting thought into
their pensions thinking they are too young to worry about it. Macpherson
explained what the average pensioner draws per year and the differences between
Defined Benefit, Defined Contribution and Target Benefit plans. Pensions are
currently being attacked by the Liberal government who see this pool of money as
“public money”. This simply is not true. Pensions are deferred wages that belong
to the members and are held in joint trust. They have a say in the
administration of the funds. Our pension plans are well-funded with a positive
track record. Not only is change not needed, it threatens our pensions.
OPSEU Senior Health and
Safety Officer, Lisa McCaskell spoke to the attendees regarding workplace health
and safety issues. She explained that more often than not problems begin with
lack of education with the employee and the employer. Employers do not fully
know their obligations under the Act, and employees are under-informed about
their rights. McCaskell addressed changes that occurred with Bill 160 which
allows a single co-chair of a Health & Safety committee to put forward a
recommendation to an employer. Previously the committee could only put forward
joint recommendations. With the changes, unions and members are able to better
exercise their right to address health and safety risks, and the employers are
bound to respond in writing within 21 days.
Brother Kevin Herbert from
Region 7 educated members with an “OPSEU 101” presentation. Different roles
within locals, regions, and the province, as well as opportunities for
involvement were explained to young workers—many of whom were attending their
first OPSEU event.
During a question and
answer session participants were able to engage and draw on the experience of
activists. Matthew Carroll from www.leadnow.ca spoke on campaigns; Laurie Miller
from OPSEU gave a brief presentation on the occupy movement; and Chris Ramsaroop
from Justicia4migrantworker spoke on current migrant worker issues.
“Participants walked away
from this year’s event with a true understanding of exactly what economic
inequality means,” said Platt. “They exceeded the committee’s goals for the
event and left Toronto with a firm understanding of exactly how important good
jobs for good wages are and how they tie into the economic prosperity of Ontario
Platt and the committee
were energized by the participant’s level of knowledge and excitement. “Our
young workers are the future of OPSEU. This is my fifth IYD event. Every year
I’m impressed with amazing young people who care not only about the people of
Ontario whom they provide various services to, but also about their communities,
their pensions and their union.” Platt stressed that young OPSEU members are
more connected to the overall state of our province and worldwide issues than
most people give them credit for. “Please encourage, educate and inspire our
young workers, as maybe we can learn more from each other than we realize.”
When asked about what we
will see from the Provincial Young Workers Committee in the near future, Platt
was discreet. “As to exactly what the main outcome was I will only say you will
have to wait until the 2013 convention. This year’s participants came up with an
idea that will not only hit the heart of every young worker in Ontario, but
could lead to a national increase in the young workers’ movement; more young
workers voting in all elections and more participation in all aspects of our
communities. Let’s just say that with our work ‘our dreams will be achieved.’” z
stories are simply wrong
Stories abound in the media about how seniors are going to
bankrupt the health care system or how the Canadian pension system will collapse
under the burden of a growing senior population.
What we don’t hear in the midst of all of these doomsday
stories—which are not based in evidence, and are simply wrong—is how seniors
contribute to society.
The fact that people live longer than ever should be
celebrated as one of the biggest success stories in history. As the saying goes:
“Getting old is better than the alternative.”
How do seniors contribute to society? Like any younger
person, they shop, they use services (which employ people), and they pay taxes.
They also volunteer; in fact, many organizations would be hard-pressed to
function without their older volunteers.
Seniors also give generously. They make more charitable
donations per capita than any other age group. Seniors babysit; they look after
grandchildren. One can only imagine what would happen to our economy if,
suddenly, no grandparents were available to look after grandchildren. How many
parents would have to scramble to find other care options (already scarce)—or
would have to miss work because they couldn’t find alternatives? How many soccer
games or ballet classes would be missed if grandma or grandpa were not there to
drive the grandchildren?
Seniors do housework, home maintenance and yard work—not
just for themselves, but for others as well. They provide transportation or run
errands for others.
They provide emotional support and friendship, like the
senior who looks in on a housebound friend to make sure everything is all right
and stays for a chat.
Seniors provide care for spouses or friends. Think of the
wife who takes on more and more responsibilities in and outside the home as her
husband starts to get frail. She may not think of herself as a caregiver, but
without her, what would happen to him? Who would get the groceries, run errands,
do the cooking, take him to medical appointments?
Other family members are not always available to help. They
may live too far away or have health problems themselves. There are
organizations that can help out—but the bulk of these supports are made possible
because of volunteers. And the volunteers are typically seniors.
Then there is the husband who takes care of his wife who
has Alzheimer’s, who, from moment to moment, can no longer remember what day of
the week it is, never mind what month or year, whether she has eaten, or what
she just did; who keeps asking the same question over and over again, forgetting
the answer as soon as it is given. He makes sure she gets dressed, eats
properly, takes her medication, accompanies her to the doctor and keeps her life
as normal as possible.
Without him, she would not be able to live at home any
more, but would have to be admitted to a care home. Because of him, she is able
to stay in familiar surroundings for as long as possible. Because of him, she is
not a “burden” on the health care system.
Rather than creating catastrophic visions of the impact of
the “grey tsunami,” it would help if we took a more balanced approach to the
aging population. We need policy solutions to address the real challenges, such
as: How do we ensure that family and friends who care for older adults and play
such an important role in their lives receive the supports they need? How do we
provide supports in communities to make them as age-friendly as possible so
seniors can continue to contribute to society and have the best quality of life?
Acknowledging seniors’ contributions would help make ours a more
age-inclusive society that does not pit one generation against the other. It
would also be a more accurate reflection of how most of us engage with each
other in our everyday lives.
Verena Menec is an expert adviser with
EvidenceNetwork.ca, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences
at the Faculty of Medicine, and director of the Centre on Aging at the
University of Manitoba.
Get your story straight
can be good, like the seasons of the year, a new fall television lineup – even,
sometimes, your teenager’s taste in music. But there are places where change can
bring problems to all concerned, and one kind of change, in particular, can be a
real headache for stewards: when a member’s story changes in the middle of a
probably been there: A worker is disciplined for, say, being late to the job.
She insists she was on time, declaring that “Five people saw me walk through the
door at 8 a.m. sharp!”
you ask for the names of the five so you can build your case, the grievor may
not be able to come up with them. Or, the five say they don’t remember seeing
the grievor that early. Or, maybe a couple do remember for sure seeing the
grievor come in on time but when you file the grievance, and management asks the
workers about the incident, they think they saw the grievor arrive on time but
no, they can’t swear 100 per cent.
grievance, many an arbitration, has been lost because grievors or witnesses
changed their stories. Here are a couple of cases where changing stories got
people into hot water. They point out the need to do solid preparation of your
people before they tell their tales.
state plumbing inspector, was discharged after an argument with a contractor on
a construction site. The discharge pleased the boss to no end: He’d wanted to
get rid of Mike because he was a whistleblower.
contractor complained about the argument, the employer jumped at the opportunity
to take revenge. He accused Mike of cursing at the contractor, belittling him,
acting inappropriately, and then lying during the investigation.
days that followed the argument Mike had five occasions to describe what had
happened on the site:
During the initial
At a due process
hearing before he was discharged;
At an unemployment
In a deposition in a
whistleblower case he filed in civil court, and
To an arbitrator
problem was, every opportunity he had to describe what happened, his story
changed a bit. The employer jumped on these inconsistencies to try to prove its
charge that Mike had lied in the investigation.
Fortunately for Mike, the arbitrator found that the employer did not prove Mike
engaged in unacceptable behaviour on the construction site that day, nor had the
employer proved he lied about the incident. Speaking to Mike’s changing stories,
she stated that a charge of dishonesty is very serious but requires proof of a
conscious desire to deceive. Matters that do not constitute dishonesty include
differences of opinion, estimates, misunderstandings, and lapses of memory. She
accepted the union’s argument that the witnesses may have differing accounts
because they were not paying attention to details that seemed unimportant at the
time. She was also convinced by the union’s argument that participants in heated
arguments often have different recollections of what was said, with no intent to
deceive. Mike did not change his story so much that he was no longer believed.
She ordered him reinstated with full back pay.
The lost day
another case, the grievor wasn’t so lucky. Chuck was an employee who worked in
the field as a hearing officer. One day an all-day hearing was cancelled and he
marked eight hours of work on his time sheet. When questioned by his supervisor,
he refused to take sick leave and had trouble accounting for his hours. When
asked why he didn’t work on writing up orders of past hearings, he said, he
didn’t feel like it. He claimed that he drove, checked into his hotel and read
paperwork for five hours.
written memo, he offered yet another excuse: He was at this point running a
fever and had a sore throat. And then, at the arbitration hearing, Chuck came up
with yet several more explanations.
arbitrator’s decision? The grievor’s story has grown and changed over time. The
changes in the grievor’s story, all of which buttress his position, seem
surreal. Chuck’s discharge was upheld.
of the matter is that, more often than not, grievors are not lying. They are
simply remembering new details, or trying to tell their story better than they
told it the first time. But sometimes the truth isn’t good enough if the end
result is the appearance of lying and the loss of credibility.
can help grievors maintain their credibility by taking these important steps:
Sit down with the
grievor before the employer’s investigation and go over what happened. Try to
get the grievor to remember as many details as possible from the beginning.
Take complete notes in
the initial interview and in any other interviews where you are present.
Stress to the grievor
that when the story is repeated, there should be no contradictions with what the
grievor has said on previous occasions.
Immediately before each
retelling of the story is called for, warn the grievor that embellishing or
exaggerating can be damaging later.
Go over all prior
statements with the grievor before the grievor repeats the story.
Rosenblit. The writer, recently retired, was a staff attorney for Oregon Public
Employees Union, SEIU Local 503
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Daily, we experience
interactions with people from various diversity groups in our communities,
worksites and other unions. One of the reasons I love this country of ours, is
that we are a multicultural society. People from all over the world come to
Canada because of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms which covers all people who
live here. Understanding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is imperative to
understanding the need for cross-cultural communication. As stewards, we need to
understand what cross-cultural communication is and how we use it to reach our
There are moments as
stewards when an interaction with a member can lead to miscommunication and
misunderstandings. Our interaction with a member is usually through our own
cultural expressions or social cues, our own belief system and our attitudes of
a person’s ethnic or racial background. Since we are born into our own culture,
we see and do things in a certain way. Sometimes it is difficult to see the
impact that our culture has on our own behavior.
communication implies interaction with persons of different cultural, ethnic,
racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, age and class backgrounds.
Cross-cultural communication is the process of exchanging, negotiating, and
mediating ones cultural differences through language, non-verb gestures, and
space relationships. It is also the process by which people express their
openness to an intercultural experience. Stephanie Quappe and Giovanna
Cantatore, authors of What is Cultural Awareness, Anyways?, best describe
cultural awareness this way: “A fish only discovers its need for water when it
is no longer in it. Our own culture is like water for the fish. It sustains us.
We live and breathe through it.”
communication is about cultural awareness. Quappe and Cantatore describe
cultural awareness as the foundation of communication, and it involves the
ability of standing back from ourselves and becoming aware of our cultural
values, beliefs and perceptions. Why do we do things in that way? How do we see
the world? Why do we react in that particular way? Cultural awareness becomes
central when we have to interact with people from other cultures. People see,
interpret and evaluate things in a different way. What is considered an
appropriate behavior in one culture can be inappropriate in another one.
Misunderstandings arise when I use my meanings to make sense of your reality.
The first step in managing
diversity is recognizing it and learning not to fear it. Since everyone is a
product of their own culture, we need to increase both self awareness and
cross-cultural awareness. There is no book of instruction to deal with cultural
diversity, no recipe to follow, and only certain attitudes to help bridge the
gap in understanding different cultures.
OPSEU has developed a
course in Cross-Cultural Communication. Take the plunge, take the course and
become a better communicator. The course will help you have a better
understanding of your diverse community and give you a better understanding of
yourself. It allows you to bridge the gap in communication and become a better
communicator. Contact your Executive Board Member and let him or her know you
are interested in this course for an upcoming educational. z
ever happened to plain old purple?
Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity
back to school comes the familiar smells everyone, young or old, remembers. One
of the favourite smells of my childhood was of the fresh, new eight-pack of
Crayola crayons. I also begged for the twenty-four pack of Laurentian pencil
crayons, but it was quite rare for me to get a new pack of those each year.
However, crayons seemed to be an easier sell.
know that something so simple comes with an interesting history? Did you know
that when Crayola crayons were introduced in 1903 that they came in eight
colours only: black, brown, orange, violet, blue, green, red, and yellow? I
remember those well, even though I was born decades later, but it was the 64
pack that I begged for—the one with the built in sharpener on the back. The
whole thing was crap, but I had to have it, even though I’d lodge a crayon tip
in the sharpener the first day I used it.
According to www.crayola.com , 1949-1957 saw the eight-pack grow to 48 colours
and to 64 colours from 1958-1971.
interest is that such a childhood favourite is not without controversy. The
colour “Prussian Blue” was renamed “Midnight Blue” in 1958 as a result of
teachers’ requests to change the name. I never had anything against the
Prussians, but maybe their perceived aggressiveness and warring history “tinted”
the name? In contrast, other colours that were renamed made perfect sense:
“Flesh” was renamed “Peach” in 1962 as a result of the US Civil Rights
movement—we all know that the term “flesh” encompasses more than one eerily
peachy, pale shade. Also, “Indian Red” was renamed “Chestnut” in 1999 as the
colour name was deemed inappropriate in its depiction of American aboriginal
skin tones. Ironically, the red/brown colour was reported, in fact, to be named
after the pigment found near India that is used in the manufacturing of fine oil
crayon purists, the years 1972-1990 led to a slow decline with the introduction
of fluorescent, scented, glitter, gem tone, and metallic shades. By 1993 colours
such as “asparagus” and “macaroni and cheese” were included, and by 2003,
colours such as “inch worm” and “magic mint” rounded out the 120 colours
as I admire Crayola’s changing with the times, I’d still gravitate to the basic
eight-pack any day over rebel colours such as “neon carrot,” “laser lemon,” or
“razzle dazzle rose.” If you’d like to revisit this staple of youth, check out
its history at www.crayola.com.
Working in Canada with no rights
Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity
Imagine being home with
your family. You do not have money to buy shoes for your children or food for
dinner. You are a hard worker, but you can’t find work. You hear about a great
opportunity to work and make excellent money. You get to travel to a great
country to find employment. You have finally found a way to provide for your
family. Finally, a way to ensure that your children’s needs are met so they get
an education, thus giving them more opportunities than you could have ever
All of this sounds too
good to be true. You know that it will be hard work, but you can work hard. You
are excited about the possibilities. You are introduced to a consultant. The
consultant tells you that by paying a fee you can be guaranteed that you are
selected. You have to make the decision between feeding your children today and
tomorrow, or paying for the chance and opportunity. You learn there is another
option: don’t pay now, pay later. The consultant will help you with a loan,
repayable out of your earnings.
You apply to the job and
are selected to move on. You are then put through rigorous tests. Your physical
test challenges your ability and appearance. Your teeth are checked. You are
stripped naked and your entire body is inspected. You are measured and judged
based on your physical appearance. Those with any disabilities or physical
deformities need not apply. The consultants are interested only in sending the
best of the best. Your physical condition is good, and you pass the first test.
You are offered a contract
with a great company. They will be your employer. Your work permit belongs to
them and only them. You are sent to the country by the most economical means
possible and are put into housing with several other people. You were told that
you will have adequate space, as well as a working bathroom and cooking
Upon your arrival, you
discover that, although your living space was inspected by the government at the
beginning of the season, it has since fallen into disrepair. The employer has
added additional cots and people which in turn decreases your space. Add to that
the toilet that hasn’t worked for two weeks.
The next morning, your
first morning on the job, you are awakened at 5 a.m., and you start working a
half-hour later. You work hard and are in physical pain from bending and
lifting. Those beside you are spreading chemicals with no training or safety
gear, and all of you are inhaling the carcinogenic fumes. You break for a meal
at noon. After everyone eats, you are back to work at 12:30—time is money,
right? You work until 8 p.m. You do this day in and day out. You cannot complain
because if your boss decides he doesn’t like you, you are sent back to your
country. There is no governing body to oversee your safety. There is no
These are only some of the
issues that people in our own country are facing under the Seasonal Agricultural
Worker Program (SAWP).
SAWP is a program which
allows foreign workers to be brought to Canada to fill voids in the labour
market when there is a need for agricultural workers. The SAWP operates in
Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Ontario.
In 1966, Jamaican workers
began to migrate to Canada under this program. Since 1974, the program was
expanded to include workers from Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and the
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Antigua & Barbados, Grenada,
Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines).
Workers sign a contract
from three to eight months. They are sent home as soon as their contract
expires. They have no rights in Canada, despite the fact that they pay into EI,
income tax, and CPP. They are rarely if ever eligible for any of these benefits.
Employers can terminate contracts, and this is often the case if a worker
becomes injured or pregnant. They are then sent home at their own expense.
Workers make low rates of
pay with no protection for their hours of work. They can work twelve to fifteen
hours on an average day without holiday or overtime pay. Hours of work
provisions under the Employment Standards Act do not apply to agricultural
Workers face huge health
and safety risks as well as human rights issues. They work with chemicals and
pesticides without the necessary safety equipment and training. They are crammed
into substandard housing with issues such as a lack of appropriate toilet
facilities and several beds stacked in small spaces. They are denied regular
breaks and rest periods. In short, they are not treated as people, as workers,
or as valued labour. They are treated by Canadians as second-class citizens.
They are isolated by language barriers and their rural location. They are
subject to racism and discrimination in the towns they visit. The support
networks they have access to are limited.
What can you do? Write to
your MPP and let him or her know your thoughts on the SAWP, and make sure to
denounce the treatment of migrant/guest workers. z
Up in the air
A man in
a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman
descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a
friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”
woman replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering about 10 metres above the
ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60
degrees west longitude.”
must be an engineer,” said the balloonist. “I am,” replied the woman, “How did
answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but
I’ve no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I’m still lost.
Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”
woman below responded, “You must be in management.” “I am,” replied the
balloonist, “but how did you know?”
said the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have
risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise,
which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve
your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in
before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”
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