BC Fed Rallies Delegates for Fair Bargaining
Over the lunch break delegates joined a rally marching from the Convention Centre to the Vancouver Art Gallery in support of free collective bargaining and fair collective agreements, and in solidarity with striking community social services, community health, and college/university workers. Labour leaders like CUPE BC Presient Barry O’Neill and BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair spoke from the steps of the Art Gallery, as did rank-and-file workers. One transition house worker talked about what it’s like to have people know your work is valuable and important but for the government and your employer to refuse to pay you fairly.
Wednesday afternoon at BC Fed Convention focused on Occupational Health and Safety. To set the tone, Jagjit Sidhu took the stage with his young daughter. Jagjit’s wife died in the 2007 Abbotsford van crash that also took the lives of two other workers. After Mr. Sidhu, 16-year-old Tracey Phan spoke to the audience about her experience with WCB after her father was put into a coma as a result of a gas leak at a Langley mushroom farm. The employer was later found to be negligent but there was no jail sentence.
“Years later, my dad’s body lies on a hospital bed…to look into a person’s eyes and realize they might not see you or realize what you’re saying to them is the thing that kills you the most,” said Tracey.
In the case at the mushroom farm it was found WCB inspectors ignored previous incidents of gas issues at mushroom farms, failing to issue warnings that could have helped prevent the accident that hurt Tracey’s father, injured two others, and killed three more.
“WCB had one job: to keep workers safe. As you all know they failed that little task,” Tracey added.
The Occupational Health and Safety Committee of the BC Fed put forward recommendations as part of their report to deal with issues like those that Tracey and Jagjit experienced. For example, they proposed the Federation advocate for a centralized occupational exposure registry as well as a registry of all public buildings and workplaces with asbestos-containing materials, as well as advocating for increased enforcement of health and safety regulation and the specific recommendations made in the Coroner’s inquests into the van crash and the mushroom farm tragedy.
As in the previous days, delegate after delegate took the floor and shared stories about workers who have been put at risk, injured, or killed by negligent employees and lack of effective regulations. The report and its recommendations passed overwhelmingly.
After the OH&S report, BCGEU President Darryl Walker and Pembina Institute Director Matt Horne brought greetings from Green Jobs BC.
Horne talked about how productive Green Jobs BC has been since it started, especially at laying a ground work where labour and environmental groups can work together: “The important part is just the relationships that have been built and the ability to have a conversation about this.”
Walker then asked for the delegates’ support for an addition to the Executive Council Report specifically focused on climate change. The recommendations in that addendum included support for Green Jobs BC and their drive for a Green Jobs Plan for BC, the continuing existence of a Fed Climate Change Working Group, and the development of a Harrison Winter School training program on climate change. MoveUP has been a strong supporter and engaged participant in the Green Jobs BC organization.
To conclude the afternoon delegates spoke to the report and recommendations of the Community and Social Action Committee. Recommendations were made and passed that the Federation will continue to support the Living Wage Coalition, fight for increases in the minimum wage, demand a provincial poverty reduction strategy, and oppose cuts to public services.