Labour Day rooted in workers’ rights

NANAIMO – While Labour Day means a long weekend to many, the origins of the statutory holiday are rooted in workers' rights.

While Labour Day means a long weekend to many, the origins of the statutory holiday are rooted in workers’ rights.

Eight-hour work days and worker safety are rights unions have fought for and while Ellen Oxman, president of the Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour Council, said the overall number of on-the-job deaths has gone down, in some areas it has risen.

“Unfortunately we’re still seeing deaths on the job, particularly in B.C.,” said Oxman. “The numbers have gone down, but certain areas haven’t and that is young workers. There are actually more young workers killed for the last year of statistics, being 2012, than there were [in 2011] and that is frightening, it’s alarming.”

She said labour unions must ensure that young workers are being educated about their rights and rules are enforced. Some companies try to do things as cheaply as possible and she said when that occurs, safety and safety education go by the wayside. There are rules about mandatory education for safety, according to Oxman.

“Unfortunately, when those regulations aren’t upheld, we have tragedy but there isn’t any consequence to the tragedy, so employers that aren’t protecting their workforce need to be charged, fined, whatever that looks like, to enforce the rules that do exist,” she said.

Labour Day, Oxman said, is a way to remember all that workers and society have gained.

“Labour has always worked hard regarding safety in the workplace and that affects everyone regardless of whether you’re a union member or not,” said Oxman.

“There are issues that span all of society and we work to make society a better place – a fair wage, a living wage, benefits, all of those things go into improving society and labour works hard everyday to make sure those things happen and they’re protected,” she said.

Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, has a background in the logging industry, and said there is much value in what Labour Day represents.

“We live in a society that is built on its standards of rights and freedoms and the right to assemble and the right to form associations is an integral right in our society that empowers unions to form, just as with the teachers fighting for conditions that benefit our children, so do paramedics, so do firefighters, so do forest workers for conditions that benefit worker safety,” said Routley.