Norma Blissett

Norma Blissett

Labour movement looks to the future

Key to growth is reaching young people, East Kootenay District Labour Council president says

  • Sep. 6, 2016 1:00 p.m.

Barry Coulter

The East Kootenay District Labour Council marked Canada’s 122nd Labour Day with its annual Labour Day Picnic in Rotary Park in Cranbrook, Monday, Sept. 5.

Labour Council President Jackie Spain took a moment away grilling hotdogs for picnickers to reflect on where the Labour movement is at in these times, the minimum wage, and the rural-urban divide in B.C. and in Canada.

Spain said the Labour movement wants to grow, like anything else, and the key to this is appealing to young people. “I’ve made that a point in my life, to talk to young people about the goods and the bads, and how to make a difference in life — a difference that’s good for employees and employers. To create win-win situations.”

Health and Safety on the job is the first point of awareness for young people entering the workforce, Spain said.

“I’m heavily involved in health and safety, which to me is very much a win win for all people. Especially as we train them to certain programs, like Alive After Five, which people can bring into high schools for free.”

Under the Alive After Five program, for example, students learn about their rights under the Workers Compensation Act and OH&S Regulations and how to exercise their rights on the job, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the employer, supervisor and workers.

“So young people understand their rights and what is okay to do in a place of employment, and also where they should say ‘no, we need to talk about this. This is not okay, it’s not safe.'”

The upshot, Spain said, is to create a good working environment for all people — good working conditions with a decent wage.

The province-wide B.C. Federation of Labour has been campaigning over the past couple of years for a $15/hour minimum wage — something Spain sees as a necessity.

“I firmly believe in the $15 an hour minimum wage,” she said. “It’s just wrong to see people working full-time, working their guts out, trying to support kids in total poverty — there’s something amiss about that.”

Though there is certainly considerable opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15, Spain sees it as a distinct possibility for the future, especially in terms of helping keep the smaller rural B.C. communities viable and livable.

“We’ve been talking about a living wage for a long time,” she said, “and I think it’s good for communities. If people can purchase, that’s good for business. It keeps people in our communities.

Spain said that what’s happening now is “almost a drive to push people into the cities.”

“Our Labour Council is rural, and encompasses a huge area. I’ve always maintained that we need to build our valley, to have a place where people will want to come and live. A good place to work and a good reputation.

“I think it’s important that our key employers conduct themselves in that way.”

Spain spends a lot of her time in Vancouver, so has a good view of both sides of the so-called urban-rural divide.

“But I’ve always stood up for that rural perspective. We need it in everything, in our schools, in our health care. I’ve always believed that people should be able to go from birth to death in their communities, and not get pushed out as they age, because they don’t have the services.”

The East Kootenay District Labour Council (EKDLC) represents a diverse group of public/private sector Unions under provincial and national Labour organizations for the promotion of Labour values.

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