Labour and Equity-seeking Groups

The Saskatchewan labour movement has a long history of struggle for equality of all workers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) and some affiliates established women’s committees; through their local and provincial activism, demands for equality of women in the workplace and in the union movement intensified. Saskatchewan women have always played an active role in strikes and strike support. By the Saskatchewan Government Employees Association general strike in the public service in 1979 and in the Canadian Union of Public Employees hospital workers strike in 1982, women’s presence was very evident on the picket lines and at the bargaining table. Women were also active in creating change in the labour movement through progressive organizations such as Saskatchewan Working Women. By the early 1990s the SFL structure was amended to ensure women’s representation from unions with more than one representative on the SFL Executive Council. Women’s presence in union conventions has increased over the years, and their influence in the policy direction of the labour movement is evident with resolutions to the conventions on issues such as equality rights, pay equity, childcare, and harassment protection.

The struggle of women workers to claim their place in the labour movement opened doors for other equality seeking groups. The labour movement has long supported the rights of Aboriginal peoples and their demands for self-government. In 1994 the SFL created a vice-president position for Aboriginal workers, and an Aboriginal Committee was created at the same time. This led to similar actions by unions belonging to the SFL. “Unionism on Turtle Island” was developed by the SFL as a popular education workshop to increase awareness of Aboriginal issues in the non-Aboriginal membership. Saskatchewan unions have led the way for changes to collective agreements which recognize leaves for traditional hunting, hiring of Aboriginal peoples (particularly in the north), and other measures to remove barriers and increase participation of Aboriginal workers in their workplace and in their unions.

In the late 1990s the SFL created a committee to address the concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) workers; this was followed by the creation of a vice-president position to represent GLBT members. These actions were built upon many years of working with the GLBT community and of raising these issues at conventions of unions, labour councils, and the SFL. The labour movement provided support over many years by lobbying for changes to benefit and pension plans to include same-sex partners; they have also taken strong positions in support of same-sex marriage.

Equality rights for workers of colour and differently abled workers have also been critical issues in the labour movement’s struggle for equality rights. Although vice-president positions have not been established for these two equality-seeking groups, there has been an emphasis over the years on issues which have significant impact on these workers. The labour movement has demanded that employers and unions provide anti-racism training and that collective agreements have clauses prohibiting discrimination. Unions have bargained to ensure that collective agreements have provisions removing barriers to hiring, training, and retention. Unions have worked with community groups of the disabled to ensure that these workers have opportunities in Saskatchewan workplaces, and that their collective agreements provide protections and special measures to ensure access to the workplace.

Young workers are another group regarded as “equality seeking” by the labour movement. The SFL and affiliated unions and labour councils have established Youth Committees and Youth vice-president positions, and have established and supported programs such as the SFL/CLC Summer Camp for 13- to 16-year-old sons and daughters of union members. The labour movement has supported the SolidarityWORKS! Program of the Canadian Labour Congress, which provides placement with a union or community group as well as education about the labour movement and global issues. Working with the Department of Labour, the union movement has delivered in high schools the Ready For Work program, which addresses the workplace health and safety issues of young workers. Youth issues have had a prominent place in the labour movement, particularly over the past fifteen years.

Barbara Byers