Secretary-treasurer Janet Andrews oversees this community for the New Westminster and District Labour Council, an umbrella organization of unions in the region. (Joshua Berson/Special to Black Press Media)

LABOUR DAY: Labour council for Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows says COVID-19 forever changed workplace

Economic recovery a chance to make workplaces safer and more just, council says

Now is the time for society to revamp the world of work, says the secretary-treasurer of the New Westminster and District Labour Council (NWDLC).

The council, which represents union locals from Burnaby to Hope and covers Langley, says the pandemic shone a harsh spotlight on work, particularly the “unevenness” of coronavirus impacts.

“Some of our workers have faced increasing loads on their jobs and their work,” commented Janet Andrews. “Some workers are, in some industries, are without a job entirely because that industry has been shut down.”

There has been an array of impacts from COVID-19 and that has impacted the council’s Labour Day message.

“As we look forward to recovery, we need to have some priorities around what recover looks like, so replacing lost jobs with better jobs so people can participate in the economy” she said.

Pandemics have happened in the past and experts have said to expect a second wave of coronavirus so society has to do better at “disaster proofing our safety net.”

“How do we prepare now for the future?” she said.

The council’s main concern is social justice, and how does the world of work acknowledge the uneven impacts for women and persons of colour who were disproportionately hurt by the societal shutdown, for instance.

B.C. should be strengthening public health care as part of the virus recovery, Andrews added.

The way the pandemic has played out shows how society must rely on science to keep people safer, she said. When the virus first started to spread, people didn’t know much about transmission, whether to wear a mask or not, and what surfaces can to be wary of.

For the council, the increased information about the virus helps guide workplace safety but Andrews said the council would like to see COVID-19 made a presumptive illness under provincial workplace legislation. It would mean the burden of proof to show that illness was work-related not longer falls on the employee.

“As we celebrate Labour Day virtually this year due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to recognize that workers and their families are the backbone of our local economy and the key to our recovery,” Andrews said. “We are calling on all levels of government to focus on investments and supports to ensure good jobs and a strong future for all people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.”

A Labour Day like no other

Typically the NWDLC and Vancouver and District Labour Council host a Labour Day picnic in Surrey’s Holland Park but has found a new way to honour workers. The Labour Council Elsies (which stands for the letters L and C) are new awards that recognize people’s contributions to the labour movement. The categories include awesome union activist, outstanding shop steward, dedicated front line worker or caring community activist.

“We are excited to be able to introduce our communities to just a few of these amazing workers. Their efforts are the foundation our recovery is being built on,” Andrews said.

The nominations were accepted over summer and an awards presentation will be done on labour council websites on Sept. 7. New Westminster and District Labour Council website

The council is also holding a children’s colour challenge with a page available for download from the website. The entries are being posted on the council social media.

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