Labour Views: Labour Day

Sep 03, 2021

 GUEST COMMENT: Josée-Anne Spirito, UNW Regional Vice President for Somba K’e

I hope you all had a safe and happy Labour Day. Labour Day provides a long weekend for some, and – thanks to labour laws – paid overtime for full time workers required to be at work that day. But where does this holiday come from and why are we celebrating it today? Labour Day has been a statutory holiday in Canada for many decades, but what is it all about? 

In the early 1900s, Canadians were in the process of creating a labour movement to demand improvements to working conditions, such as shorter work weeks. The idea behind this principle was that workers should be at work for 8 hours, spend 8 hours with their family, and have 8 hours of rest per day. 

After some important historical strikes in Canada such as the Winnipeg general strike, Canadian workers started making some important gains in their collective bargaining process. Various pieces of legislation recognized the Canadian labour movement. The labour movement grew stronger and workers understood the importance of fighting for workers’ rights and the impact it would have on their quality of life. 

But these gains did not happen without groups of workers standing together and fighting for what they believed in. It is important to look back at our history and learn from what workers have experienced in the past, but it is even more important to look forward and understand the reality of workers today. 

Why are unions still relevant? There are many important gains that have been achieved by unions in Canada in the last few decades. Gains for maternity leave started in the 1980s and pay equity was only accomplished with the GNWT in 2002. Our members continue to fight for equity in the workplace and unions have been the number one advocates to ensure that rights are being upheld. 

Unfortunately, we’ve also recently seen an increase in anti-union tactics to divide workers and diminish their rights.

Unions are weakened when employers are able to pit workers against another. They can utilize many tactics to achieve this. Unions are there to make sure workers are all treated equitably and are only as strong as their membership. When workers are united and stand together, they can achieve great gains for the collective. 

The world of work has gone through a lot over the last 18 months. More than ever, workers have to stand together to continue fighting this pandemic and what is coming ahead. Our economic future is uncertain, working conditions of front line workers are uncertain, and unless workers stand together, we may see some sectors faced with multiple challenges as we recover from this crisis. 

Every worker in our territory has been impacted by this pandemic one way or another and we must learn from the issues this pandemic has highlighted. 

The challenges of yesterday have helped us make some significant gains for all workers and as we face different challenges today, we must continue to stand together and fight for the rights of all workers. 

We must build on what has been achieved for the next generations, and learn how to fill the gaps that we have recently discovered. We must continue to celebrate Labour Day and the great achievements from our past while we look forward and plan how we must continue to improve work environments. History has shown us it is possible when we stand together. 

In Solidarity,
Josée-Anne Spirito, RVP Somba K'e