Last month, in a ceremony at the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Canada finally joined 164 other countries in ratifying the ILO’s Convention 98, a commitment to workers’ right to organize and collective bargaining.
As Canada’s Minister of Labour, I deposited the instrument of ratification, in the presence of representatives from both Canadian employers and Canadian unions. It was a proud moment for our government, which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was elected on a commitment to restore fairness and balance to labour relations in this country.
When I was sworn in as Minister on January 10, I brought to my new role the kind of lived experience that allowed me to carry out my work with a first-hand understanding of the value of healthy labour relations in a workplace. Before I entered politics, I was running the largest homeless shelter in northwestern Ontario. It’s a unionized workplace, and as its Executive Director I oversaw a staff whose union advocated for them about wages, hours, conditions, and other issues. And together we worked on our common goals of excellence in service and a safe, fair workplace.
I carry that experience with me every day as a member of Parliament and as Minister of Labour. It reminds me that unions are fundamentally about people. The “labour movement” is about people who work in Canada, and who deserve to work in fair, safe spaces and earn a decent living. And when employees thrive, so do their employers.
We know that healthy labour relations directly contribute to economic growth. Independent institutions like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have concluded that lower rates of unionization result in stagnating incomes, particularly in the middle class, leading to direct impacts on the growth of our economy and on inequality.
When our government talks about building a strong middle class, we’re talking about ensuring that people can count on good-quality jobs and the ability to make a living and support their families. Unions are critical to helping achieve that goal.
This is one of the reasons I was so proud to be a part of our new Liberal government on the day last year when we introduced Bill C-4, which restores fairness and balance to the tri-partite relationship between government, employers and workers — a balance that had been upended by the previous Conservative government.
That balance matters, and it’s why our government shows faith in, and respect for, the collective bargaining process during collective negotiations and disputes.
Now, with the long-overdue ratification of Convention 98, Canada is also sending a clear message to our friends and allies about the value of labour standards and good employment conditions for workers around the globe. By ratifying Convention 98, Canada is now signatory to all eight of the ILO’s Fundamental Conventions.
The International Labour Organization was established as an agency of the United Nations in 1919 to set labour standards and promote decent work for all women and men. Its Conventions are legally binding international treaties. In addition to Convention 98, which represents a commitment to protect the right to collective bargaining, the remaining core Conventions address freedom of association, forced labour, child labour, equal pay and discrimination.
Standing up for healthy labour relations, not just here at home but on the world stage, affirms Canada’s commitment to global diversity, openness and inclusion. As our Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland declared in June, Canada’s support of the middle class, and those working hard to join it, is defining an approach to globalization that can be a model. Multilateralism and collaboration are key to the challenges we are facing. From Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Geneva, Switzerland, the ratification of Convention 98 is another step forward, with our allies, to building prosperity at home and abroad.
The Hon. Patty Hajdu is Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Photo: UN Women/flickr
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