Working Women Speak About Matters that Concern Them

IWD 2023 greetings from women in FTQ Construction.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, the Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L) interviewed working women from across the country who are on the front lines of the fight for a society fit for human beings that guarantees the rights of women and the rights of all. Excerpts of their interviews are published below.

For Living and Working Conditions that Ensure a Life of Dignity for All Women

Marie-Sophie Plante, a carpenter-joiner, in Local 9, FTQ-Construction, said:

"I know that it's not only women who face discrimination; men also experience it. However, we experience discrimination as women, and one thing in particular in construction that affects us is that sometimes women don't get hired by a company because they're women. It has happened to me. It's not hidden, it's very clear that this is the reason. And we're talking here about large companies that receive public contracts and do not hire women. With regard to my possibilities of finding work or keeping it, since I've been working, I've been asked more than once, 'Do you want to have children soon?'

"As well, in construction, there is a big culture of silence around this; it's not spoken about. In a sector such as a government ministry or for a municipal job, if a woman is turned down on that basis, it could make the news. But construction is so small that everyone knows each other. Companies get around a lot, all the contractors know one another. If we talk about it, for sure the next day I won't be able to find a job. We'll be barred from a lot of places because we dared to talk about it.

"A big concern, not just for us in construction but for everyone, is work-family balance. Many workers lose their jobs because of problems related to this.

"We see it in the statistics that women earn less because of this. They have to leave work early to take care of the children, miss days because their child is sick. The worker ends up with 25 hours in her week instead of 40. Rather than being told that nothing can be done, that the hours are lost and that's it, we need a better retention of hours to allow women to make up for the hours they've lost."

On the subject of the living conditions of women working in the mining sector, Nadine Joncas, a prevention representative with USW Local 5778 at ArcelorMittal's Fermont iron mine in northern Quebec, told us:

"The method of employment commonly known as 'fly-in fly-out' is a major concern. [This is the way of organizing work where companies fly workers in and out of production sites instead of relocating them to the region. Workers alternate weeks of work on the sites and periods of rest at home -- Workers' Forum note.] This method of work does not facilitate the inclusion of women. For a woman's situation, a mother's situation, fly-in fly-out is not an ideal job for raising and caring for a child.

"Certainly there are now many more women in the non-traditional trades. In our local, we have eight per cent women, it hasn't changed much, but women are more accepted in the trades of welder, mechanic, etc. Women are accepted and they are good at what they do. That opens a door, but the work schedules don't make it easy to include women, to have more women. I'm talking about twelve hour shifts, night shifts, no daycare. This does not help. We're still at eight per cent women and we've been at eight per cent for years. We have to innovate to meet these new challenges.

"Work-family balance is becoming more and more important in the values that drive young people. The young people I see put a lot of value on involving themselves in family life, with their children. But today we are back to Les filles de Caleb, when the guys would leave home for months to go where the work is. We remember the character of Ovila in this television series who leaves to do logging in the winter and returns in the spring, and the mother is left alone with the children."

Telus workers "practice" picket in Calgary, February 26, 2023.

Workers from Telus told us about the fight that workers at this telecom giant have been waging against concessionary demands in negotiations which recently resulted in a tentative agreement that was ratified on March 17.

Jennifer Turner, a shop steward and member of the Executive Board of USW Local 1944, said:

"My concern is that TELUS is so aggressive in their offshoring. We want job security in the future. And that is a really big one for us. I work ACES, an area that looks after dealers and door-to-door people. When I started it was pretty much all onshore, and there was only one team offshore. Now there are five teams offshore working in the Philippines, and only three teams onshore. Also not having any pay increases for so long is a problem. Inflation is so high and you know, as women, we need to take care of our families. The company is constantly raising their prices for their products but not even offering us any raise for all of 2022. Those are my biggest concerns and also the fact that they are going after our benefits, giving us less sick days, so that's definitely a concern."

Another shop steward said:

"The company puts call centres in Manilla, India, Guatemala, and they pay people dollars a day. That is not helping the economy here, for anyone, and I feel like it will be hard for workers in these countries to build their labour rights as big companies like TELUS are going there to exploit them. I think it is hurting them more than helping them.

"With regard to the electronic monitoring, it is not as intense in the department where I work as in other departments, but as a Shop Steward I have gone to other departments and have been just shocked that they are asking people things like 'what were you doing for the seven seconds that your mouse was idling?'"

Kathleen Mpulubusi, a postal worker and union activist in Alberta, spoke about conditions at the post office:

"In Edmonton, particularly at the Canada Post plant, there are ongoing issues of harassment from supervisors, and for the women it is compounded by sexual harassment.

"This week, 40 workers on the evening shift in the parcel section were suspended for a week without pay. The workers requested a brief meeting with the shift manager to present a petition with their health and safety and staffing concerns. This is their right under the collective agreement, to present a complaint without fear of retribution or intimidation or being impeded. So there was a two-and-a-half hour 'standoff ' before the manager finally met with the workers, but in the meantime he called security to try and force the workers back to work. He called the police, he even threatened to have our local president arrested for delaying the mail, which is technically a federal offense. The director of Edmonton operations and the plant manager showed up, as well as the head of Canada Post security. When our president, who the workers had asked to be present, left the plant, there were three cop cars lined up outside. So they suspended all the workers at once for a full week, and then tried to call in casuals, many of whom were 'unavailable.' According to Canada Post, that two-and-a-half hours resulted in the delay of 14,000 parcels. So this is what life is like in the plant."

Karine Ouellet Moreau, president of the Union of Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Inhalotherapists of Northeastern Quebec said:

"There is a lot of mandatory on-call, which needs to be reviewed. We need to review the remuneration parameters. For eight hours of on-call, nurses who are in home care are paid for one hour. The government has imposed mandatory on-call. They may or may not be called in, but they are paid for one hour only. To be on call for eight hours, they require someone to support them. If they have to leave the house, they need support for the children. I live in Forestville in the Upper North Shore, and the girls who are in home care have on-call duties.

"There is the problem of mandatory overtime. The nurses come in at a certain time, but they don't know what time they're going to get out. They need a family resource or other personal resource after the daycare closes."

Here is an excerpt of our talk with Tina Laforce, Chapter Chair, Local 47, Chapter 8, Alberta Union of Public Employees:

"I represent workers at the for-profit company CBI. Home care is a vital part of our society for the seniors, a lot of people prefer, or it's better for them, to stay at home and have someone come in and help them instead of having to go into a facility.

"One of the issues that we're dealing with is the wages, both the hourly pay and how home care workers get paid. For example, they are paid like 30 minutes a visit, and that is supposed to include the travel time. But it actually takes 30 minutes to do the care with the client, so the workers are not getting paid for their travel time. Plus you only get $1.40 per visit -- not including the first and last visit of the day -- for fuel and use of your own vehicle.

"Everyone is considered casual, and CBI is not obligated to provide a full eight hours of work. Some days they might work six or nine hours, another day it could be two hours, so it's not consistent. But the company expects them to be available. Some people work two or three jobs to try to make ends meet. How can they pay their bills? How can they keep up with the economy, prices are going up, groceries and fuel and everything is just going up. And they're having a hard time just making ends meet. So it's really frustrating and stressful for the workers."

Health care workers participate in IWD march in Toronto, March 4, 2023.

Sandra Mullen, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, had this to say about living and working conditions in her sector:

"A big concern is the precarious work that women have been facing, whether that is the gig economy or sectors where so many employers downsize and contract out, and things like that. The majority of workers that it affects can be women. Part-time work and the work situation that health care folks are in now, being so short staffed, falls mainly on women who make up the majority of the work force. It affects family and home life as well, and puts stress on that. The inflationary cost, all of those things, are affecting single parents, the majority of whom are women. It is recovery, if we can say, from the pandemic, where money was lost, income was lost, therefore contributions to CPP and to pension programs are affected. All of those are going to have such an impact on women.

"There are many workplaces that go through a process of restructuring. Our government has been active in taking people out of the provincial government employment and creating agencies as a way of restructuring. We work very hard at ensuring that nobody loses their jobs but it does impact their employment.

"People are facing a housing crisis all across the country including in our own province of Nova Scotia. These folks are in some of the lowest paying jobs, and there are a lots of jobs out there, but people have to have a place to live. They are bringing in migrant workers and immigrant workers in all sectors and they face a challenge in finding them a place to live."

Montreal secondary school remedial teacher Geneviève Royer, made this comment about conditions in education:

"The education sector is in crisis. It is an environment that has been extremely weakened, obviously, by the thirty years of cuts in the public sector, an environment that is also weakened because the children and adolescents and their families with whom we work are also affected by the anti-social offensive. Our challenges are great. They are as much about the type of program and modern pedagogy that Quebec schools of the 21st century need, as they are about the types of resources that should exist in schools to enable the younger generation to flourish and take their place in society.

"Education workers create immense value for society. Imagine a young person spending eight hours a day in school, being supervised by adults who guide them in their academic, sport and social learning, and feeling that their needs are being met. Definitely, the tension within schools would decrease and what exists as a form of violence experienced in schools could only decrease and this could only have a beneficial effect on the whole society.

"It is well known that providing students with the conditions to affirm their right to an education depends on ensuring proper working conditions for teachers and education workers.

"So why is it that the demands for working conditions that allow us to affirm and create this situation in our schools are never the ones that are legally binding in negotiations? "

Women organizing among migrants, immigrants and refugees also addressed their fight to have their rights recognized in Canada.

The South Asian Women's Rights Organization (SAWRO), an organization of immigrant women in the east end of Toronto, many of whom are precariously employed working for temporary work agencies in both industrial and service sector workplaces, said:

"The health and security of each individual lies in the health and security of all. People whose daily lives are shaped and impacted by compounding systemic barriers need a comprehensive approach to reforms to address the interlinking crisis of poverty, housing, health, and so on. Patchworks of responses and programming to address large-scale issues that only provide temporary relief and band-aid solutions are no longer adequate in meeting the genuine needs of highly-impacted communities.

"The global health crisis and the looming economic recession must lead to sweeping changes in the way policies and programs are decided, in particular the fundamental values that guide these processes. We need comprehensive responses that address the multidimensional impacts faced by highly-impacted communities across Canada. To achieve this, marginalized communities across Canada must mobilize within their communities and alongside each other."

Skit by SAWRO at Toronto IWD rally dramatizes the many problems women face and government's lack of response and concludes women have to together fight to change the society to one fit for human beings.

An undocumented worker from Alberta had these words for us:

"I want to use my voice on behalf of all the undocumented workers, who I am calling the invisible workers. We consider ourselves to be invisible workers. You know why? Because we non-status workers work day and night. We don't have sick leave; we don't have vacation leave. We work for low wages, often not even the minimum wage. We don't get overtime, even if we work 12 hours straight. There's no night differential.

"Invisible workers are very vulnerable to being put in unsafe situations at work. If they are injured, they cannot get Workers' Compensation, and don't even have health care coverage. We are used and abused by employers.

"Invisible workers are not a burden on society, we work hard and contribute to the economy. We are helping the economy grow, but we are not recognized. We are living in the shadows, living in fear of being deported, living in fear of being caught going to work. But if we do not go to work, how can we survive?

"We want the government to hear us. We need the support of all the organizations of the people, of the workers, in our fight for regularization.

"Our Canadian-born children are treated as second-class Canadians. When I gave birth to my daughter, I had no coverage for health care, and then my daughter did not get health care coverage. By law, any child born in Canada is supposed to have health care, and also the right to education. Mothers, parents could not get coverage for their Canadian-born children.

"So Migrante [a migrant workers support organization -- WF.] campaigned for our children to have health care, we lobbied the government. We fought for it and we won that fight.

"I have been here for a decade. My life is here, I belong here. This is my second home. I love my community, I love Canada, but I don't know why I am still struggling for my papers, my permanent residency.

"When I see the growing support, all the people standing with the undocumented workers, it makes me stronger, it makes me more confident in raising my voice. If we fight together, we can win."

Greetings from Northern BC

We are ending our report with the greetings sent by the Northern Feminist Institute for Research and Evaluation (Northern FIRE) and its electronic network -- the Women North Network! that said it all:

"Today is a day for us all to celebrate our successes, while at the same time recognizing the significant injustices that remain and substantial challenges yet to be tackled. We stand together for the rights of women and the rights of everyone in Canada and across the globe. Today some of us remember the wise words of a song from organizing in the '60s and '70s: The liberation of women is the necessary condition for the elimination of all indignities against humankind. We look forward to working with everyone in the days and weeks ahead to continue our collective work."

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 3 - March 2023

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