Workers in Canada have fought for and won significant gains for decent work this last year and Unifor was at the centre of it. Just one example of success is the $15 and Fairness campaign in Ontario where Unifor activists played a big part.
Last November Ontario’s workers won a long-overdue series of changes to improve employment standards. On January 1, the hourly minimum wage was increased to $14 per hour, and it will go up again to $15 in 2019.
For the more than 20,000 Unifor members working in retail, these improvements are long overdue.
It’s a big win for poorly paid retail workers who work erratic schedules, are often involuntarily part-time.
The gains didn’t happen overnight. Like all improvements for working people, it took a lot of work, persistence and collective action. In January of 2015, when the Ontario Liberal government began reviewing minimum work standards, unions collectively launched the Fight for $15 & Fairness campaign.
Unifor took part in both the legislative fight for decent work and the $15 campaign. Although changes focused primarily on non-unionized worker, the union was involved because the fight for decent work and good jobs is at the corner-stone of Unifor’s founding purpose. Every person of working age has a right to a good job.
Naureen Rizvi, Unifor’s Ontario Regional Director, said it was about improving the lives of all workers, and our solidarity won the day.
Although celebrations are in order for Ontario workers there is a glaring minimum wage discrepancy between provinces. Nova Scotia was dead last until it announced a 15 cent hike in February, bringing the minimum hourly rate to $11 per hour. This small change put Saskatchewan workers at the bottom, where the minimum wage is $10.96, the lowest in Canada.
But there are hopeful signs for low-wage workers elsewhere. Albertans will make $15 per hour starting on October 1, 2018. British Columbians are stuck at $11.35 now, but it jumps to $12.65 starting June 1, 2018, and yearly increases were announced in February that will bring the minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021.
Coinciding with political action work, Unifor has also made gains at the bargaining table. In 2015, for instance, the union successfully negotiated an automatic pay adjustment in the event of an increase to the provincial minimum wage. This happened at B.C.’s Servantage, a building cleaning service, and at several grocery stores that Unifor represents in Ontario. Part-time workers were also guaranteed an increase in the number of hours per year, as well as additional days of notice on scheduling.
While these gains are important, the fight for decent work and a $15 wage is far from over. Companies, like some Tim Horton’s franchises seek to claw back benefits to workers to offset these gains. But in response there has also been a huge public backlash and widespread support for workers.
The rising anger towards billionaire employers who put their profit margins ahead of decency should give us hope. The task for the union is to translate that hope in to action and that requires a continued fight back, solidarity and Unifor action.