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Worker tributes are great—but fair compensation is better

Worker tributes are great—but fair compensation is better

Karen Ranalletta is President of CUPE BC, which represents more than 104,000 workers in British Columbia who deliver public services across a wide range of sectors including public and post-secondary education, childcare, community social services, community health, local government, transportation, emergency services, and libraries.

This Labour Day, let’s commit to making life more affordable for B.C. workers

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good party, and Labour Day is no exception. This year especially, I look forward to the first big public gathering since 2019 to celebrate the important role that workers have played in fighting for—and winning—the workplace rights we all enjoy today. Labour Day is an important recognition of workers’ contributions and achievements, a way of recognizing how far we’ve come. It always will be.

But this year feels different.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since there was no such thing as the weekend, when people worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks just to make a basic living, when child labour and unsafe working conditions were rampant, and when immigrants and the very poor were denied such basic workplace rights as access to fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks. But as much as we treasure the rights we’ve won; we always live in the present with an eye to the future. And right now, the future looks grim for far too many British Columbians.

The present is a struggle, with many British Columbians facing serious affordability challenges. This province is grappling with inflation rates not seen in generations. Consumer spending on necessities like fuel and food, as well as discretionary items, keeps rising as central banks increase the cost of borrowing.

Economic uncertainty is the result of extreme cycles of the pandemic and recovery, leading to challenging times for many communities. Indigenous, Black and racialized people, women, people with disabilities, gender minorities, and people belonging to the 2SLGBTQIA community have disproportionately experienced job and income loss and suffered negative impacts to their mental health and wellbeing.

In times of rising inflation, strengthening public services is the best thing we can do to support our communities. Public sector investment supports the services that citizens require in challenging times, and increased public spending helps support economic growth when the private sector falters. Moreover, public sector investment has multiplier effects on the private sector as jobs are created in the industries that supply the necessary materials and services for the initial investment.

Every year at this time, community leaders come forward with messages of support for working people, for the labour movement and our proud history of progress and social change. While it’s heartwarming to see so much support from so many corners of society, what we’d really like to see is a call for action to make life more affordable for workers. Because it’s times like these that demonstrate why governments need to do more and why workers need more unions: If unions aren’t out there fighting for cost-of-living adjustments and better working conditions, no one will.

So, this year on Labour Day, let’s all commit to making life more affordable for the workers who keep this province running.

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