Labour Works

April 2020

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LABOUR WORKS VIEW ONLINE AT APRIL 4, 2020 ❙ A SUPPLEMENT TO THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS B Y J I M T I M L I C K T he history of the labour movement in Manitoba dates back more than a century, but you don't have to look back very far to find evidence of the impact unions have had on the lives of workers across the province. Indeed, the current coronavirus pandemic has offered ample proof of the important role unions play in uncertain times, says Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck, whose organization represents more than 100,000 public and private workers across the province. The MFL recently called on the provincial government to provide 14 days of job-protected leave for all Manitoba workers who are forced to self-isolate or care for a loved one due to COVID-19. "I think in these challenging and unique times in which we are living with the coronavirus now, we quickly see the difference having a union makes. Union members are more likely to have sick-time benefits bargained for them and a voice in the workplace to raise concerns over scheduling and shutdowns and layoffs," he says. "Unions are as relevant today as we've ever been and I think we're a necessary voice to balance off government and employers who determine our working conditions, our wages and the supports that we need to survive and be successful, productive and contributing members of our economy." Though the coronavirus pandemic is global in scale, there have been several recent examples of the work unions have done to assist local workers in times of trouble. Workers at Stella's Café unionized following complaints from staff about sexual harassment, bullying and abuse at the chain. Meanwhile, the union representing staff at a downtown Tim Hortons outlet negotiated a deal that saw those workers return to work after being locked out and replaced with other non-union employees. "People are still turning to unions to have that voice and ensure they are treated with respect and treated fairly," Rebeck says. As important as unions are to their membership, they also play a vital role in assisting all workers, Rebeck notes. He cited recent examples such as union efforts that helped convince the federal government to implement enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the ongoing discussions labour organizations are having with Ottawa regarding a national pharmacare plan. "We fight hard to make work better for everyone," he adds. That fight included a recent court battle with the Pallister government and its Public Services Sustainability Act that included a wage freeze for most Manitoba provincial employees. The MFL and its member unions contend the wage freeze fundamentally undermines constitutionally-protected collective bargaining rights. "We believe it's an illegal law that ensures 120,000 Manitoba families will fall behind even further and won't be able to keep up with the cost of living," Rebeck says of the court case. While it's impossible to predict the future, Rebeck is confident that unions will continue to play an important role for many years to come. He points to the expanding gig economy and several recent instances of replacement workers being brought in by businesses as examples of the need for workers to have a unified voice representing them. S U P P L I E D P H OTO Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck (with loudspeaker) says workers are still turning to unions to ensure they are treated fairly and with respect. STILL MAKING A DIFFERENCE MFL PRESIDENT SAYS UNIONS JUST AS RELEVANT TODAY AS THEY WERE 100 YEARS AG0 In Solidarity with Unions in the fight for justice for all NIKI ASHTON, MP CHURCHILL—KEEWATINOOK ASKI LEAH GAZAN, MP WINNIPEG CENTRE DANIEL BLAIKIE, MP ELMWOOD—TR A NSCONA B Y J I M T I M L I C K T he Manitoba Federation of Labour is spearheading a social media campaign aimed at raising awareness about the rights of workers who are dealing with domestic violence. The campaign, which was first launched in December 2018, aims to educate Manitoba workers about their right to take leave when experiencing domestic violence. It's using a variety of tools to deliver that message including social networks, posters, advertising and videos. In 2016, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to enact legislation that guarantees workers can take paid and unpaid leave if they have been a victim of domestic violence. The legislation also ensures that those workers have a job to come back to if they require time off to seek safety away from their abuser. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that people don't have to worry about job security if they need time off work to deal with an abusive relationship. MFL president Kevin Rebeck says the legislation was a positive development, but many workers remain unaware of their rights under it because the provincial government has done little to promote it. "Even though it's law now, many people don't know about it," he says. "At the end of the day this kind of leave can save lives. It may be something you and the people you know never need to access, but for those that need it this can make a world of difference. We're trying to turn a spotlight on it and hope others do as well. We want to get the word out and let people know there are certain rights you have if you're in this situation and people are there to help you." As part of Manitoba's domestic violence employment leave legislation, individuals are entitled to up to five days of paid leave to seek medical attention for themselves or their children, obtain psychological or other professional counselling, make new living arrangements, get help from law enforcement officials or connect with a victim services organization. It also provides for an additional five days of unpaid time off and up to six consecutive months of leave. Prior to the legislation being enacted, it was up to individual employers to decide whether they would grant a worker leave or hold their job for them when they returned to work. Rebeck says that situation was untenable for many workers and a big reason why organized labour pushed for the legislation to be brought forward by the previous provincial government. "Many people didn't feel like they could share why they were taking a leave or felt embarrassed to say they were in a domestic violence situation," he says. Melissa Dvorak, president of the Winnipeg Labour Council, says many people don't realize the impact domestic violence can have on the workplace. A 2014 study conducted on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) showed that one in three workers has experienced domestic violence and that 82 per cent of those who have been affected by it say it has negatively influenced their work performance. "I've had close personal friends who have dealt with this issue and it's like they say, the abuse follows you to work," Dvorak says. "The problem is sometimes the only time you have time to deal with your situation without being overly monitored by an abusive spouse is during the workday. Finding that time to do so is so critical. That's why I wish more people knew about (the legislation) because it can really help to escape those situations." While it's difficult to determine what the impact of the public awareness campaign has been, Rebeck says the MFL and its members have been encouraged by the fact that it has prompted discussion on a subject that many people don't feel comfortable talking about. "This is an issue we're just not supposed to talk about," he explains. "It's not a comfortable or polite topic so we just move on and talk about something else. "The sad reality is it's that kind of attitude about not talking about it and not giving voice to it that perpetuates it and allows it to continue. We as a society underestimate how prevalent this is and the importance of giving it a voice and talking about it. We need to continue to talk about this and let people know that there are laws in place to help support them." Union members are more likely to have sick-time benefits bargained for them and a voice in the workplace to raise concerns over scheduling and shutdowns and layoffs. – KEVIN REBECK President, Manitoba Federation of Labour " " – MELISSA DVORAK, President of the Winnipeg Labour Council The problem is sometimes the only time you have time to deal with your situation without being overly monitored by an abusive spouse is during the workday. Finding that time to do so is so critical. MFL CAMPAIGN AIMED AT PROMOTING AWARENESS STO C K P H OTO

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