Local labour leader sees progress but says work isn’t yet done
James Mulhern, president of the Lindsay and District Labour Council, remembers the old Labour Day picnics they used to hold 22 years ago. About 10-15 people would show up and wave the flag for fairer wages and better working conditions.
Back then there were better jobs, though, it being just the start of the globalization and privatization wave across Canada and the U.S. that would gut massive numbers of good, full-time, middle class jobs.
The ensuing years marked the rise of ‘precarious work’ — jobs that were part-time, casual, or temporary, often without benefits. Today, that kind of work is the new norm.
Perhaps that’s why in recent years Mulhern has seen the numbers rise dramatically for the annual Labour Day picnic. Now, about 300-400 people typically show up for the gathering.
Held at Old Mill Park in Lindsay on Sunday, it’s a way for Labour to “give back to the community,” says Mulhern.
With free hotdogs and hamburgers and scores of door prizes, he says it’s thanks to 60-80 local business owners in City of Kawartha Lakes who recognize the value of their employees and who want to contribute to the picnic.
“We’ve also got some reasons to celebrate this year,” says Mulhern, who says that Bill 148 from the Ontario Liberal government is a “great start” at correcting some longstanding grievances. The bill mandates a higher minimum wage, growing to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, while moving up to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019.
The Bill also states that:
- Part-time workers must now receive equal pay for equal work.
- After five years of work, employees will be entitled to a minimum of three weeks vacation each year instead of two.
- Employers will be required to pay employees for three hours of work for cancelling a shift with less than 48 hours notice.
- Workers must not be improperly treated as independent contractors if they are in fact employees.
Mulhern says the fight must go on though on other fronts and that’s why the Canadian Labour Congress and Ontario Federation of Labour have teamed up to push for universal pharmacare as the theme this year.
The Ontario Liberals introduced free pharmacare for anyone under the age of 25. That’s a small start, says Mulhern, but the rest of the population needs to be covered, too.
“You shouldn’t have to decide between getting a prescription you need and paying your rent,” the labour leader says.
Minimum Wage Growth and Basic Income
Mulhern is happy with the minimum wage increases and rejects the rhetoric about businesses not being able to afford it, or that it only benefits a small number of people.
“When you raise the minimum wage you raise the floor itself – and then you’re fighting for everyone’s wages to go up,” he says. “So it has the effect of helping others, too.”
Mulhern says it’s a good thing that Lindsay has the three-year basic income pilot beginning this fall, provided no one loses sight of other progressive priorities, too, from better labour standards, to a nation-wide pharmacare plan.
“We need many things, and basic income is part of that,” he says.
Mulhern says the Province has been moving in the right direction lately when it comes to inequality.
“I’ll give the premier some credit on these progressive measures,” says Mulhern.
He adds that the Ontario Federation of Labour has some recommendations for further improvement, though, ideas which can be found here.