Local 79 and our community partners scored an important victory during last week’s meeting of City Council. Council debated agenda item EX 33.2, “Quality Jobs, Living Wages and Fair Wages in Toronto”, which included proposals that could make it more difficult for the Mayor and his allies to turn good jobs into bad ones through contracting out. Cleaners are particularly vulnerable to abusive employment practices. They often receive wages near or below the minimum wage, and are forced to work without job security, training, or health and safety protections. Therefore, Local 79 was very concerned about sections of the item that delegated authority of subcontracting to Division Heads.
Local 79 worked with a number of community groups to facilitate a coordinated response on fair wages, contracting out, and a living wage. By coordinating our submissions, deputations and lobbying efforts, and by working with supportive Councillors including Pam McConnell and Ana Bailão, we successfully advocated for Council to maintain oversight of contracting out and limit subcontracting to emergency situations.
Council also agreed to regular increases to the Fair Wage Schedule. The Fair Wage is important because it requires companies providing services to the City, or on the City’s behalf, to pay salaries equal to or higher than their industry standard. Too often, the City has contracted out work to companies that don’t even pay that amount.
However, in many cases, the industry standard is not good enough. Workers need a guaranteed living wage: a salary that permits a family to fully participate in their community and the economy. In fact, in many industries, not only are wages too low, hours are also uncertain and too often workers can’t raise concerns about health and safety issues without fearing for their jobs. Therefore, Local 79 and our partners supported a recommendation that the City develop a ‘job quality assessment tool’. This tool will evaluate jobs to make sure they include a living wage as well as measures to ensure stable hours, opportunities for career advancement, and worker representation.
Local 79 will take every opportunity to provide input into the job quality assessment tool. We will also continue to make the point that many of the central elements of a quality job are in place where public services are directly provided by City employees. Ultimately, if the City wants to promote quality jobs it should stop contracting out those services!
This week, Local 79 joined other Labour Unions, the Ontario Health Coalition, the Canadian Health Coalition, and hundreds of community organizations at the Niagara-on the-Lake Shadow Summit and Mass Rally to Uphold National Public Medicare.
The purpose of the event was to send a strong and clear message regarding Canada’s Health Accord to Canada’s Premiers, who were meeting in Niagara-on the-Lake for their annual Council of the Federation. This was their last meeting before the National Health Accord expires in 2014, and it was crucial that the Premiers heard the collective voices of Canadians urging them to ensure the renewal of the Health Accord next year.
CUPE National President, Paul Moist, chaired part of the Shadow Summit where he reminded participants that Prime Minister Harper and his government are neglecting their responsibility to protect Medicare and are “retreating from Canada’s signature social programme”.
Without proper consultation with the provinces, the Federal government is pressing ahead with plans to cut the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) by $36 billion over 10 years – starting with elimination of CHT equalization in 2014, then sharp cuts in CHT increases beginning in 2017. Over time, the federal government’s share of health care spending will shrink to a small fraction of its original 50 per cent contribution – down to 18.6 per cent by 2024.
It is unfortunate that the announcement from Canada’s Premiers regarding “modernizing” fiscal arrangements includes several points on health care and the need to “protect and sustain” medicare, but contains nothing on the 2014 Health Accord or the need for federal accountability for health care. Local 79 thinks it’s regrettable that the elected leaders of Canada’s provinces did not see the need to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire on this crucial issue.
Nearly a quarter of our members provide health care services to Torontonians. It is in our members’ direct interest to do everything possible to ensure a renewed Health Accord. Local 79 will be working closely with CUPE National to assist in organizing and mobilizing members and working with community allies, to participate in energetic lobbying efforts to save Canada’s essential Medicare programme.
As Tommy Douglas said at the 50th Anniversary NDP Convention in 1983, “we pledged to provide health care for every man, woman and child, regardless of race, colour or financial status… and by God we’re going to do it!” He also urged the assembled delegates to “save Medicare from subtle strangulation.” Let us heed the historic words of the ‘Greatest Canadian’!
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