Unions and labour groups across the country marked Labour Day with scaled-down versions of their traditional demonstrations, while calling on expanded federal government aid for workers struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Labour Congress launched a campaign on Monday to coincide with the federal holiday that calls on the federal government to expand the changes to employment insurance that provides benefits to any Canadian worker left jobless even after the pandemic ends.
CLC president Hassan Yussuff also said that he hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will address their concerns in his upcoming throne speech with announcements of improved apprenticeship program for Canadian youth, and ways to help visible minorities and immigrants access unemployment benefits.
“We know we have gaps, we know we have many issues and what we’re hoping to get the federal government to address in the throne speech is how do we address some of these things to make this country truly a better place for working people (and) for all Canadian,” Yussuff told The Canadian Press.
At a rally in Toronto, Shelli Sareen, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 75, the largest hospitality union in the Greater Toronto Area, called for additional paid leave and long-term benefits as the hospitality industry struggles through historic declines in large events and tourism.
“Many of our members are struggling to put food on their tables and they’re struggling to pay their bills and struggling pay their rent,” she said.
In Calgary, where unemployment sits a 14.4 per cent, the Calgary and District Labour Council called for Alberta to diversify its economy and to implement paid sick leave.
“COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for paid sick leave,” CDLC President Alexander Shevalier told CTV Calgary. “Workers should not have to choose between getting better and paying the rent. Paid sick leave needs to be the cost of doing business. It’s a necessity.”
In Montreal, emergency room nurses at the Lakeshore General Hospital walked off the job overnight on Sunday, indicating that they were too short-staffed to be effective at their job.
In Nova Scotia, the provincial teachers’ union worries the provincial government is ill-prepared as students return to class on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of people headed back to school tomorrow worried about safety, logistics, and readiness to provide the supports that teachers and kids deserve,” Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney told CTV Atlantic.
“Some hand sanitizer has been dropped off undiluted, and it’s expected to be put on kids’ hands – it’s just not safe.”
Concerns of COVID-19 at Canadian schools has been a growing concern as students head back to class. In Ottawa, five French schools already have confirmed cases of the virus, while Quebec saw 50 cases in its first week of class last week.
In a Labour Day speech posted to Twitter, Trudeau thanked front-line workers and promised to continue support Canadians who have lost income and employment due to the pandemic.
“As Canadians transition back to EI benefits, we’re going to make sure the EI program is more flexible and generous so you can get the help you need, when you need it most,” Trudeau said during the speech.
On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that the Canadian economy gained 246,000 jobs in August, but this still leaves 1.1 million Canadians unemployed since the height of COVID-19.
With files from CTV National News Parliament Hill Correspondent Kevin Gallagher, The Canadian Press, CTV Atlantic, CTV Calgary and CTV Montreal