By Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress
Like many parents, I want to believe that my nine-year-old daughter will grow up in a world that allows her to reach her full potential.
A world in which she, along with her peers, will be able to find decent and meaningful work; a world in which she will be able to build a future that includes a home and a family of her own.
A world in which she will not be discriminated against because of her race, gender, sexual orientation, ability or any other characteristic.
However, where we should be seeing progress, recent setbacks are cause for concern for any parent. In fact, a recent poll by Angus Reid found that more Canadians believe their children’s generation will be worse off than themselves, than those who believe their children will be better off.
I want to comfort those who harbour these fears by telling them that the country’s unions are working hard to bring progress back to Canadians.
Much of my work is motivated by the conviction that unions are helping to build a better world for all of our children. After all, it is they who will inherit the legacy we leave behind.
Labour Day offers all of us an opportunity to reflect on that legacy – to take stock of our progress, and to commit ourselves to working for a fairer future for everyone.
We can all be optimistic because the advances unions make ultimately have wider implications across all of society, positively impacting every worker and their family. This won’t be unfamiliar to most people – unions have won paid maternity and paternity leaves, shorter work weeks, safer workplaces. More recently, unions have secured better public pensions, a ban on asbestos and much more.
These days, we are advocating for a number of causes that will have a tangible impact on the bottom line of many family budgets. We are working on winning prescription drug coverage for everyone; we are helping prepare workers for a green economy; and we are advocating for pay equity and harassment-free workplaces.
Pharmacare that leaves no one behind
It’s hard to believe that Canada remains the only developed country with a universal health-care program without a national pharmacare plan.
Over eight million Canadians do not have employer-funded medical coverage. Most of those who are affected are women and young people. Even those lucky enough to have coverage are struggling to pay for rising deductibles or for medications no longer covered by changing plans.
Since launching our campaign for universal pharmacare last Labour Day, over 57,000 people have told us they want this. Over 11,000 people have already written to their Members of Parliament on the issue, and people across the country have participated in several dozen community town halls in almost every province.
The advocacy is working. In a major breakthrough, the federal government announced earlier this year the appointment of former Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins to head up an Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. The federal government has begun its consultations on how to make this happen.
As we anticipated, Canadian pharmaceutical and insurance industry lobbyists have launched an all-out attack on a single-payer, public, universal pharmacare plan. They are intent on preserving an inefficient system that delivers billions in corporate profit while too many Canadians struggle to afford the medication they need.
We can’t let that slow us down. We’re inviting people to share their own experiences struggling to pay for medications, and we are training community members to lobby their elected officials.
Canadians have universal health care today because unions advocated for it decades ago. We hope that someday our children will say the same about pharmacare.
#DoneWaiting for Gender Equity
If barriers to women’s empowerment are not removed, then fully half of the population will continue to face unfair obstacles. Ultimately, that holds all of us back and impedes our nation’s progress.
That’s why unions launched a national campaign this year to declare that women are “done waiting” for affordable child care, an end to wage discrimination, and an end to sexual harassment and violence. The campaign has garnered nationwide support, with several thousand people writing to their MPs to call for immediate action.
We’ve made waves already. The labour movement has won paid domestic violence leave in Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, as well as for federally regulated workers across the country. Momentum continues to build in other provinces. Federal action on pay equity is expected this fall, but the #DoneWaiting campaign will continue to press for women’s safety, equity and economic justice.
A Just Transition for Coal Workers
When the Canadian government announced plans to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030, we called for a national taskforce to develop a “just transition” plan for coal workers and their communities. In April of this year, the government launched a historic Task Force on Just Transition, which is co-chaired by myself and includes community, labour and business representatives.
Since then, the Task Force has travelled to four provinces and met with thousands of workers and community members who will be impacted by the coal phase-out. The Task Force report is due this fall and is expected to set an international standard for worker-centred climate policy.
All of these issues matter because the health and well-being of our communities matter. That’s why Labour Day means so much to me, and to countless others – it’s a day to remember what we’re striving for.
I’m proud of our progress but keenly aware of the challenges ahead. There are conservative forces across Canada insisting on rolling back social progress and wanting to put barriers back up for working folks while making it easier for the rich to get richer.
These forces threaten our collective future and potentially hinder the contributions we are making towards building a brighter future for every child. What they can never do is weaken our determination in helping make Canada a better place for all. Together, anything and everything is possible.