Government needs to do more for Canadian workers says MP

Supporting workers

Boss Man Boss Man pay my rent
A dollar I've earned is a dollar I've spent
The company plan takes all my check
For breakin' my back and riskin' my neck

— Boss Man by Gordon Lightfoot

Earlier this week, as I listened to the song, Boss Man by the late Gord Lightfoot, the lyrics moved me for many reasons, his passing being just one.

This week we gathered for the National Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives, suffered injury or illness on the job. We marked May Day, a celebration of the labour movement and a day recognizing the strength and unity of workers around the world. All of this amid what is one of Canada’s largest ever strike actions and soaring costs of living.

Canadian workers are playing by the rules and doing everything right, but they still can’t get ahead. No workers want to strike, but they need wages that keep up with inflation. Most of the federal workers that were seeking higher wages in the recent strike were making only $40,000 to $60,000 per year, and reports show the average federal worker’s wages have only just kept up with inflation since 2007. Now, more than ever, we must stand with all workers, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by the inflation crisis and the resulting economic hardships. Canadians need to be able to know that their government and representatives are working for them.

As part of the confidence and supply agreement between the federal NDP and Liberals, we’ve forced the government to make significant investments in people, from dental care for children to rent top-ups and doubling of the GST tax credit. We delivered 10 paid sick days for workers in sectors under federal jurisdiction, such as banks and transportation.? We’ve successfully demanded investments in affordable housing and childcare and forced the government to take the interest off student loans, permanently. Without New Democrats holding the balance of power, none of these promises would have been kept.

But Canadians are still struggling. Workers are leading the struggle and we’re pushing alongside them. This year we’ll secure dental for teens, seniors, and people with disabilities, and we’ll demand a national pharmacare framework by the end of 2023.

The only power workers have in negotiations with employers is the ability to withdraw their services and go on strike. Employers often take away that power by hiring replacement workers, creating situations that divide communities and prolong disputes.

The NDP has tried to fix this several times by introducing “anti-scab” legislation, but the Liberals and Conservatives always vote down these initiatives. This year, we’ve used our power to force the government to bring in “anti-scab” legislation and restore workers’ rights.

The pandemic made it clear that our Employment Insurance system needs a serious overhaul. The work environment has changed dramatically in recent decades, and most people don’t have the traditional jobs that are eligible for EI, in fact only 40% of workers in today’s society qualify for EI.

We were hopeful that a badly needed modernization of the EI system would be announced in the budget but were disappointed with total silence on that front.

Another item missing from the recent federal budget was a long-overdue adjustment to the amounts paid to graduate students who work full-time on their research and are paid through federal scholarships. That funding has not changed since 2003, so these students—our best and brightest—are working for as little as $17,500 per year, less than minimum wage, and living below the poverty line. That must change before we lose more of these young scholars to the many countries who properly value their talents.

Workers have kept our communities running throughout some very difficult years, and we need to have their backs. I will continue to demand fair wages that keep up with the rising cost of living, and advocate for policies that ensure economic stability for all Canadians.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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