Workers’ group marks Labour Day with push for changes in Liberals’ throne speech

One of the country’s largest labour organizations is launching a campaign to coincide with Labour Day to push the Trudeau Liberals for changes to the federal social safety net.

The Canadian Labour Congress is hoping the government widens planned changes to the employment insurance system to provide jobless benefits to any worker in the country even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Congress president Hassan Yussuff said many workers and families would not have survived financially so far had it not been for federal aid like the Canada emergency response benefit or the wage subsidy.

He also said the labour group will be pushing the government on skills and apprenticeship training particularly to help youth, and a strategy to help visible minorities and immigrants more easily access federal unemployment benefits.

He called the requests practical steps the Liberal government could lay out in the throne speech — scheduled for Sept. 23 — to better prepare the country should a similar economic crisis occur in the future.

‘We know we have gaps’

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the country gained back 246,000 jobs in August, but the country is still down 1.1 million of the three million jobs lost over March and April.

Labour Day itself normally includes marches through major cities, picnics and gatherings, but the pandemic has scuttled many of those plans for this year. In their place may be some car parades, Yussuff said, and virtual gatherings.

He said this particular Labour Day is one to note how many workers stayed on the job as others were ordered home during lockdowns, citing grocery-store workers, truckers, meat-packers and long-term care home employees, as well as other front-line health-care workers.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff looks on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Labour 7 Consultation in Ottawa on April 4, 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“This is a moment when the country gets to reflect how can we do better to ensure all workers in this country are treated fairly and decently and, more importantly, they are compensated for the work that they do,” Yussuff said in an interview.

“We know we have gaps, we know we have many issues and what we’re hoping to get the federal government to address in the throne speech is how do we address some of these things to make this country truly a better place for working people [and] for all Canadians.”

Trudeau promotes record on workers

In a statement released Monday, the prime minister touted his government’s pandemic support of workers, who he called the “backbone of our country and our economy.”

Trudeau said in addition to the creation of the emergency response benefit for individuals and the wage subsidy for workers, the federal government worked with the provinces to provide essential workers with a temporary wage boost.

A deal reached in May committed the federal government to kick in $3 billion while the provinces and territories would contribute $1 billion for so-called pandemic pay programs. Some provinces and territories have already paid out the wage top-ups, while others say the money is on the way.

The federal government also shepherded the purchase of personal protective equipment for workers, Trudeau said, and intends to provide 10 days of paid sick leave and create more child-care spaces through the Safe Restart Agreement with the provinces and territories.

“On this Labour Day, all Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to our workers — from those on the front lines to those who stayed home to keep others safe,” Trudeau said. “Canadian workers have always been at the heart of our success and they will continue to be at the core of Canada’s economic recovery, as we work together to build an economy that is resilient, green and equitable for everyone.”

Opposition leaders release Labour Day messages

Erin O’Toole, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, released a video on social media where he said many workers don’t have much to celebrate on Labour Day. O’Toole blamed “big government” and “big business” for layoffs affecting workers in the energy, manufacturing and forestry sectors.

O’Toole said, if elected prime minister, he would implement a “Canada First” economic strategy that would prioritize the needs of working Canadians over those of elites and special interests.

“The goal of economic policy should be more than just wealth creation. It should be solidarity and the wellness of families and includes higher wages,” said O’Toole.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement that too many workers continue to be left behind despite support from the federal government.

“The courage pay bonuses that we fought the federal government for should not come to an end,” he said. “We need to keep fighting for increases to the minimum wage, and make sure the workers we now all recognise as essential — including those who care for our seniors — make a living wage.”

Singh said that employment insurance should be there for the millions of Canadians who remain out of work and need it and that the ultra wealthy should pay more in taxes to support an economic recovery that includes building energy efficient affordable housing, investing in child care and improving the long-term care system.

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