Op-ed: A safe space for Black workers

December 1, 2022


May 26, 2022

Courtesy of Public Service Alliance Of Canada

For most people living in, and migrating to this province, work is a central concern in our lives. Our jobs dictate how and where we live. They impact the quality of our lives and health. They can determine how we age, and sometimes even how we die. Work is what most of us have in common. We spend many of our waking hours at work or thinking about work; sometimes it even creeps into our sleep. And, as Black workers, we have a complicated relationship to work that dates back to the forced labour of enslaved African people.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and workers were adjusting to shocking layoffs, terminations, or unsafe work, we began to get calls and questions from Black workers. We heard from those who worked under the table and found themselves with no income or supports overnight. We heard from migrant workers who were told by their employers that they were not permitted to leave their bunkhouses at any time, even though forcible confinement was never a part of the COVID response in this country and no other members in the same communities were expected to abide by that arbitrary rule. We heard from sick and injured workers, overwhelmed and overworked workers, people who were sick with COVID and other illnesses who did not qualify for the temporary COVID protections afforded to others. These stories confirmed what some of us had learned earlier in the pandemic: when we set up a vaccine clinic at the Jamaican Canadian Centre to increase vaccinations in the Black community, we saw that Black workers are at the core of the most essential sectors of the economy and that racism continues to be an additional factor when Black workers seek crucial supports.

On Saturday, May 14, 2022, we hosted a Workers’ Rights Clinic that offers a free and safe space meant to support Black workers to build their labour knowledge and their relationships with worker advocates. Our sponsoring organizations bring expertise and years of experience in organizing and advocacy. They include by the Jamaican Canadian Association, Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – Ontario Region, Black Legal Action Centre, Justicia for Migrant Workers, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Mayworks Festival, Toronto Community Benefits Network, Caribbean African Canadian Social Services, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Black Women Professional Workers Co-op, Workers’ Action Centre, Justice for Workers, Pan African Credit Union, and the Workers Health and Safety Legal Clinic.

The unfortunate truth is that many workers don’t know how few rights they have until they experience something tragic such as injury, illness or job loss. This is a terrible time to learn that our laws don’t offer workers sufficient protections. The enforceable rights and protections that we do have came about thanks to communities and organizations fighting for them and refusing to back down.

We know that all levels of governments have a role to play in protecting Black workers who continue to face disproportionate hardships. We call on our governments to close all loopholes in labour legislation that allow employers to employ workers beneath the minimum standards, to legislate paid sick-days, to ensure that all temp agency workers have equal protections, and importantly, to grant permanent status to all workers.

This article was originally published on Now Toronto.

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