Labour Day is a time to celebrate the role of workers in the economy and address the real economic issues of our time.
Labour Day is about more than a well-deserved day off. It is a time to celebrate the important contributions working people make to our economy. It is also a good time to reflect on what is needed to improve the economic and social well-being for all workers.
Working people are the engine of the economy. The work we do, the services we provide and the money we spend drive the economy. But, in 2013 the economy is failing working people. Downward pressure on wages and government austerity programs are resulting in layoffs, contracting out, privatization of public services while families struggle to make ends meet. The rich are getting richer and the debt load of working people is increasing. It is no wonder our economy is experiencing such slow growth.
Economic recovery is being undermined by federal government actions over the last two years that erode workers wages, including: exploitation and fast-tracking approval for business to employ temporary foreign workers at wages below market rates; cuts to Employment Insurance and forcing workers to work at lower wages, continuous interference in the collective bargaining process on the side of employers, as well as attacks on unions and labour rights. These measures all need to be reversed and replaced by policies that support, rather than undercut real wage increases for workers.
At the same time, workers need a retirement security system in Canada to support our economy and provide economic security after a lifetime of work. It is a central economic problem today. Without adequate retirement incomes, we will pay with reduced living standards and an increase in seniors' poverty. These outcomes, will, in turn, cost taxpayer money through programs like the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement and provincial and territorial income support and social assistance programs.
But, study after study shows that Canadians are not saving enough for retirement, and that this problem will only get worse as future generations retire. These troubling projections demonstrate the shortcomings of an increasingly individualized retirement income system. Working people are increasingly told their retirement security is their own problem. Save more for your own retirement at the same time your real wages are declining and debt level increasing?
The answer is clear. The economy needs a raise -- disposable incomes need to rise to increase demand and create good jobs and economic growth. And we need to build an economy that sustains jobs with decent incomes for the next generation.
As we celebrate Labour Day this year, let's really celebrate the contribution of working people by continuing to press for economic change to reverse growing income inequality. Press for economic change to drive the economy through higher wages and economic change to ensure all Canadians can retire in dignity.
Workers can count on the labour movement to do just that. We do that through collective bargaining and political action on behalf of all working people. And on this labour day, as national president of Canada's largest union, I repeat my call to the government of Canada to convene a national pension summit where we can roll up our sleeves and address the affordability issues with defined benefit pension plans and re-tool the Canada Pension Plan so that it will continue to provide economic security for all Canadian retirees for generations to come.
Despite at first denying its involvement, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/30/benetton-factory-collapse-new-take_n_3187924.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">UK apparel brand Benetton admitted it had connections with the Bangladeshi factory</a> that collapsed in April, killing more than 400 people. In an emailed statement to The Huffington Post, Biagio Chiarolanza, CEO of Benetton Group, wrote: <blockquote>As a company, we are constantly working to strengthen the measures and initiatives already in place - our own as well as those to which we participate - in the markets in which we are present. Our objective is to contribute to a significant and lasting improvement in workers' conditions and the environment in which they operate. Regarding this, we are in contact with global non-profit organizations as well as with organizations such as the International Labour Organization, to evaluate how to support further initiatives specifically designed for Bangladesh. At the same time, this is such a tragedy that no one in the industry should feel above it. As such, Benetton will make funds available to the victims of the families as every member of our industry has a moral obligation to intervene in their support.</blockquote>
Last December, a Los Angeles garment factory associated with dozens of retailers, including Urban Outfitters, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/sweatshop-la-fashion-urban-outfitters-aldo-forever-21_n_2302493.html" target="_blank">was accused by the Department of Labor of "sweatshop-like" labor practices</a>.
Converse ceased manufacturing in the U.S. after being bought by Nike in 2003. Since then, workers at a supplier making the sneakers have claimed that supervisors abused them and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/nike-faces-new-worker-abuse-indonesia_n_896816.html" target="_blank">even threw shoes at them as they worked.</a>
Workers at a Levi suppliers' <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/content/levis-gap-garment-workers-strike-cambodia" target="_blank">plant in Cambodia went on strike over substandard working conditions</a> in 2012.
Forever 21 was also one of the brands that was accused of using the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/sweatshop-la-fashion-urban-outfitters-aldo-forever-21_n_2302493.html" target="_blank">Los Angeles supplier</a> accused of "sweatshop-like" practices.
A Chinese supplier for the sneaker brand Keds reportedly <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=9Pascy_5HUMC&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=keds+sweatshops&source=bl&ots=o49jdh6z22&sig=gHOVGuFBM5jbTKXqM_Lwj0-EfTs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e0aAUfDKArHo0AHRpoGYCQ&ved=0CHEQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=keds%20sweatshops&f=false" target="_blank">locked workers behind 15-foot walls</a>, according to a 2000 study by the National Labor Committee entitled "Made in China."
Famous for its outdoor clothing and apparel, L.L. Bean was roundly <a href="http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/sweatshop_hall_shame_2010.pdf" target="_blank">criticized in 2010 for not boycotting cotton from Uzbekistan,</a> a nation notorious for its use of <a href="http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/21/cotton-exporters-using-child-labor/" target="_blank">child labor</a>, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.
Swedish fashion brand H&M was associated with supplier Garib & Garib Newaj, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/02/hm-factory-fire-in-bangla_n_482170.html" target="_blank">the owner of a Bangladesh factory that burned down in 2010, killing 21 people</a>.
Despite their mission to donate shoes to children in need, TOMS has been criticized for <a href="http://www.thefineprintuf.org/2011/05/01/a-closer-look-at-toms/" target="_blank">being vague about measures it's taken to uphold fair labor standards</a> in China, Ethiopia and Argentina, where it makes the majority of its products.
The home goods chain reportedly did business with a <a href="http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/sweatshop_hall_shame_2010.pdf" target="_blank">Chinese supplier that refused to allow some 200 employers</a> to organize a workers' association, according to International Labor Rights Forum.
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