A short labour history brings a perspective on why we even have a Labour Day holiday.
The B.C. economic and social conditions throughout most of the early years in B.C. (1840-1914) have very few similarities to British Columbia working conditions today.
Working conditions included 12-hour work days, wages at subsistence levels, no healthcare, no unemployment insurance, no workers’ compensation, no workers’ rights, including no workplace safety rights and even child labour. They were all the realities of life in B.C. at that time.
Political change was very difficult throughout that whole period. Not only did the vast majority of people not have the right to vote, but the cost of running for political office and property requirements for voting and running for office (as well as there being no legislative or responsible government until B.C. joined Confederation in 1871) all made it very difficult for workers to seek political solutions or rights.
The early workers in British Columbia made many sacrifices, many died and were maimed and severely injured on the job and those sacrifices led to our living and working conditions in British Columbia today.
The union movement in B.C. and Canada has helped to build a very large part of society, both in terms of the way people are paid, but also in terms of people’s rights in the workplace.
This includes the right to safe working conditions, fair wages and compensation for injury, and equitable labour relations providing some fairness in the workplace.
Workers have lost their lives in order to establish the “right to refuse unsafe work” and the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination on the job.
Even now in B.C. workers have a hard time invoking these rights; one only needs to look at the recent situation regarding B.C. mill explosions where employees had raised concerns about the high levels of dust in the mills prior to explosions fueled by the high levels of pine beetle wood dust.
Many of the current workers safety regulations came about as a result of workplace accidents that resulted in death or injury to workers.
That is why it is so unacceptable to me that this current government acted to de-regulate so many former BC Workers Compensation regulations!
Literally hundreds of safety regulations have been deleted or changed by government without the support of workers.
I think it’s insulting this government even changed the name from Workers Compensation to “WorkSafe” which is a kind of management directive to workers!
You would think in this day and age we would be more enlightened on safety than having a recent coroner’s report on mill explosions suggest we need more safety training! Really!
I believe it is still important that we remember the significant struggle of workers in Canada and B.C.
So, this Labour Day, to all workers: here’s to you!
Bill Routley MLA