Educating workers about their rights is becoming more critical as the Ford government wipes out the enforcement of our labour laws. The Ontario budget released last month included an $11 million dollar cut to the Ministry of Labour, and a move toward relying on employers to educate and regulate themselves . Then this week, the Toronto Star exposed that the office of the Ministry of Labour that is in charge of preventing workplace injuries, illness and death will get an additional cut of $16 million, putting our safety on the job further at risk .
Since the government does not have workers’ backs when we are exploited or hurt at work, we have to stand up to defend each other’s rights. This is exactly what Workers’ Action Centre members like Linda and David do in their communities. For this first edition of our Stories from the Frontlines update, we sat down with them to hear how they are organizing against Ford’s cuts.
Workers’ Action Centre: What are you hearing on the ground in Scarborough?
Linda: A lot of workers we’re meeting in Scarborough are stuck in part-time work, or getting gigs through temp agencies. When something goes wrong and their rights are not respected in some way, the government isn’t protecting them. And workers aren’t getting all of their pay. Things like vacation pay, they usually don’t get.
David: Not only are they not getting vacation pay, but they don’t even get time off for vacation. People doing security or working in kitchens get no breaks. They work 12, 13, 14 hours a day every day of the week. Exploitation is maximum. In my community, the mentality is “don’t go against the boss,” even when they know they are treated unfairly. They sacrifice, working two or three jobs, hoping their children will have it better. I think this is why many workers are eager to join us in our organizing. They believe this fight for decent work will help the whole community, especially the next generation.
The Ford government has taken away many recently won rights from workers. What has the response to that been like?
Linda: People are angry. They are in complete disbelief that anyone would scrap such basic rights as two paid sick days. Often you’re getting sick because of your work. That was my experience working at a daycare where I was catching things from the kids. It’s a vicious cycle. Of course, it wasn’t just the sick days that Premier Ford took away. From postponing the $15 minimum wage until 2025 to cancelling the right to equal pay for equal work, these rollbacks are affecting pretty much everyone.
David: We’ve been hearing from a lot of new people in Scarborough, who see us in the news and then call us to get involved. A lot of workers get little empathy or respect from their employers. Instead, most employers seem to do the minimum they can legally get away with when it comes to ensuring safety on the job or following basic standards. When workers are really hurting and then hear that the government is making their working conditions even worse, they know they have to fight.
What is next in your organizing in this community?
David: We will continue doing Know Your Rights workshops in partnership with local community organizations. Lots of newcomers don’t know our rights at work. This is why we do these workshops in both English, as well as in languages like Chinese and Tamil. Every worker who learns their rights builds their confidence to speak up.
Linda: That’s right! You just don’t know your rights at work until somebody tells you! And that is true both for newcomers and people working in Ontario for decades. Then, together, we create a vision for how to make our workplaces better and organize to make it happen.
Outreach in Scarborough and other neighbourhoods across Ontario won’t stop until we win decent work for ALL! Linda and David are organizing Door Knocking Outreach in Scarborough on Thursday, May 23 at 6:00 pm, so please sign up to join them if you are in the area. With each worker we reach out to, the decent work movement in Ontario is growing! Visit 15andfairness.org to learn more about other outreach events you can take part in.
*Our phone line hours have changed. If you have a problem at work, please call us Mondays – Thursdays between 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm at (416) 531-0778.