More than 1000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) from across Ontario marched to the Ministry of Labour in Toronto today, protesting attacks on workers’ rights by governments of all levels.
The march began at CUPE Ontario’s 50th annual Convention, where delegates are debating and voting on policy and an action plan to direct their union in the year ahead, and laying the groundwork for their union’s next 50 years.
“It’s hard not to see the connection between our history and the challenges we’re facing,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. “As a union, our first struggles were for the right to organize and bargain collectively. This year we have seen repeated attacks on those rights by Stephen Harper, the Ontario Liberals and Tim Hudak’s Conservatives. The principle of free collective bargaining is a basic right, an absolute line that no party can cross.”
In the wake of provincial legislation that stripped school board workers of their rights and Conservative plans to take away the ability of unions to effectively represent their members, CUPE Ontario is stepping up member education and mobilization.
In essential services, such as health care, where workers do not have the right to strike, disputes between employers and workers are resolved through a system of independent arbitration. The vast majority of contracts are negotiated and do not go to arbitration. However, some employer groups are pressuring the provincial government to change the arbitration system. Their proposed changes would end the delicate balance that makes the system fair and allows it to work.
“Health sector arbitration is working well and shouldn’t be attacked,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). “The government’s intrusion into a stable, neutral process like arbitration threatens these efforts and the public services Ontarians rely on.”
These attacks on workers’ rights are all being done in the name of “austerity,” a budgetary approach that is failing governments around the world as budget cuts stall economies and deprive citizens of the public services they rely on.
“The pressure on public sector workers to do more with fewer resources has intensified,” said CUPE Ontario Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick. “This is causing the quality of public services to deteriorate and wait lists for health care services, child care and developmental services to continue climbing. It’s time for governments to start working for the people instead of for Bay Street.”
CUPE is Ontario’s community union, with members providing the quality public services we all rely on, in every part of the province, every day. CUPE Ontario members are proud to work in social services, health care, municipalities, school boards and universities.