Publications: In Solidarity

Taking a stand for workplace safety 

The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists: Volume 19, Number 3 - Fall 2012

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

You 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).

Over 200 correctional officers work at the detention centre, with close to 80 officers working each day.

It 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.

To find 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.

Under the 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.

This is 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 protected.

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.

An 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 at HWDC.

On 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. 

On 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 reprisals.

Nearly a 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 priority. z

Here comes the bride

 Child Labour - last of a three-part series

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

The past 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 18.

Marrying 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.

A report 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.

The 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 them.

What can 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.

What’s 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 Alliance Caucus,

Local 329

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 community.

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 anti-transgender violence.

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 vulnerable.

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 Law:

http://www.gender.org/remember/day/what.html

http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/E2English.pdf

www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/explanatorynotes/english/2012/elaws_src_ex_exs12007_e.htm

Mom? What’s a donut hole?

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 parents.

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 percolating coffee

  • The pop of a flash cube

  • The whirr of a TV dial being manually spun

  • The scritch of a needle hitting a vinyl record

  • The ding-ding of a full service gas station bell

  • The 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:

  • The thingy that goes in the middle of a 45 record

  • A “church key” beer opener

  • Returnable glass pop bottles

  • Pull tabs from beer cans

  • Dime store photo booths

  • Dime stores

  • A Walkman

  • A discman

  • An eight-track tape

  • A phone book

  • A stand up arcade game

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 

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.

Through 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.

O’Flynn 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).

By 1974 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.

He was 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.

He served as President of OPSEU for six-and-a-half years.

Is WSIB breaking the law? 

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 others.

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 advocates report:

  • reducing benefits across the board;

  • cutting 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;

  • bad faith reversals of compensation after benefits are supposed to be “locked-in”, even when workers’ conditions are worse not better;

  • reducing 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;

  • bad faith reversals of entitlement;

  • ridiculous 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;

  • reduction in the number of oral hearings;

  • Appeals 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);

  • increased and zealous pursuit of “overpayments” and increased surveillance and prosecution.

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 yachnim-iavgo@lao.on.ca

Join

If you would like to join Legal Workers Against Illegal Cuts, please contact Marion Endicott, Injured Workers’ Consultants at endicotm@lao.on.ca z

Opinion

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 minimum wage.

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

Opinion

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 people.

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. z

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 region.

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

Editor’s 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 seriously depressing.

Ontario’s part-time 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 Ontario.

Discriminatory pay 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 gap.

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 this problem.

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 what’s FAIR!

OPSEU employs 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

Economic equality 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.

OPSEU 1st 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 and Canada.”

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

Doomsday stories are simply wrong

StraightGoods.ca

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

Steward Update

Change 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 grievance battle.

You’ve 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!”

But when 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.

Many a 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.

The cursing inspector

Mike, a 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.

When the 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.

In the days that followed the argument Mike had five occasions to describe what had happened on the site:

  • During the initial investigation;

  • At a due process hearing before he was discharged;

  • At an unemployment hearing;

  • In a deposition in a whistleblower case he filed in civil court, and

  • To an arbitrator

The 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

In 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.

In a 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.

The 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.

Appearance counts

The fact 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.

Stewards 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.

Joel Rosenblit. The writer, recently retired, was a staff attorney for Oregon Public Employees Union, SEIU Local 503

*** This article is reprinted courtesy of Union Communications Services Inc., 1633 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. To order a subscription, you can call 1-800-321-2545. By agreement between In Solidarity and Union Communications Services, this material may not be reproduced. ***

Cross-cultural communication 

  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 diverse communities.

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.

What is cross-cultural communication?

Cross-cultural 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.”

Cross-cultural 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

What ever happened to plain old purple? 

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

With 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.

Did you 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.

Also of 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 paints.

For 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 manufactured.

As much 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.

Migrant workers: 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 imagined.

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 facilities.

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 fairness.

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.

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 

Internet/CALM

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below.

He 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.”

The 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.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist. “I am,” replied the woman, “How did you know?”

“Well,” 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.”

The woman below responded, “You must be in management.” “I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” 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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