Ellen Oxman

Ellen Oxman

Labour Day: Union movement strives to improve working conditions

NANAIMO – Labour council president says goal to ensure workers treated fairly.

The labour movement has fought for workers’ rights throughout the years and is still relevant today, say union leaders.

Ellen Oxman, Nanaimo Duncan and District Labour Council president, said the labour movement continues to strive to improve the lives of workers and ensure safety at all work sites.

Oxman said the topic of foreign workers is a contemporary issue. It was an issue the council was lobbying for last year and while it has died down somewhat, it is still relevant. She pointed to a recent report that suggested the Province of B.C. would be using foreign workers for liquefied natural gas production.

Oxman said the council isn’t against foreign workers, but it wants to make sure everyone is on an even playing field. It also wants to ensure no one is being abused and making less money.

“We want to make sure that when a company is bringing in foreign workers, that they’re following health and safety regulations, that they’re paying them what they legally have to, that they are looking after them and following through on what they agreed to as taking responsibility for foreign workers.

“We also want to make sure that if the jobs can be done by a worker that’s already here, that they have an opportunity to do that, as well,” said Oxman.

Job security is paramount, according to Brian Butler, president of the Nanaimo local of the United Steelworkers. People are continually being replaced or seeing work contracted out to other sources.

“We see that a lot in the health-care sector where the way government has it set up now, an employer has a contractor and they gain rights to unionize and improve their conditions at work, that contract simply lapses and then they contract it to the next contractor, who has to start all over again,” said Butler.

Rob Zver, Nanaimo education support workers’ union president, said most businesses are providing benefits, pensions and other things that unions have fought for, which in a roundabout way has prevented unions from growing.

“The unions have and still need to be around to provide that the security that they have built in the past remains in the future…” said Zver. “Most outfits now are competitive, or offering the same securities within, as in wages and benefits, but [without unions’ support] the reverse would happen.”