Labour rights are immigrant rights

Foreigner Affairs

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

The recent controversy surrounding the working conditions in local Canada Goose factories is both unfortunate and indicative of a structural economic problem that must be addressed. Specifically, the more this city focuses on increasing its economic productivity (especially with growing corporate investments), the more the working class, many of whom are immigrants, must be protected by a more rigorous labour policy.

The horrendous circumstances the Canada Goose workers find themselves in are as harrowing as they are indicative of a broad corporate disposition driven by avarice and exploitation. Since 70 per cent of the company shares were sold to Bain Capital in 2013, the working conditions at Canada Goose factories in Canada have worsened, with employees citing workplace harassment, intimidation tactics, racial discrimination and inadequate sanitation and personal protective equipement (PPE) distribution. 

The factories also operate on a quota system, which means workers are paid by piece. A Vice article explains “the number of pieces a sewer has to produce can change at any time, which can then lead to sewers working continuously for eight hours without taking a break.”

This disgusting state of affairs provides an opportunity for the broader Winnipeg population to recognize the necessity of labour-intensive policies. Unionization, broader health benefits, parental leave and working conditions of this nature cannot be insidiously overlooked in order to gain more profit.

In an address pertaining to the establishment of a new “Economic Opportunities Advisory Board” in May 2020, Premier Brian Pallister spouted a vague and hopeful narrative of a stronger future economy post-pandemic. He spoke of more job opportunities and economic stabilization, emphasizing that “this team of leaders will provide the best-possible direction for unleashing private-sector capital and investment for our province.”

Just four months later, Pallister passed the Labour Relations Amendment Act, which would allow employers to fire striking workers, allow for union decertification (potentially leading to a total removal of public-sector unions) and make it increasingly difficult for public-sector unions to bargain with their employers by removing the requirement for neutral third-party arbitration. 

These third-party neutral arbiters are vital in helping unions resolve issues with workers’ employers to come to a fair conclusion regarding labour disputes. A CBC article explains “the new legislation will give employers more grounds to dismiss an employee who is on strike or locked out.”

This conniving disconnect between the provincial government’s vague hopes for private-sector growth, followed by the dismissal of union-based workers’ rights directly contributes to the conditions seen in the Canada Goose factories. The economic growth promised by government officials like Pallister will not offer concrete economic stability for the working class, but will instead boost private-sector profits at the expense of their workers. 

This sort of political maneuvering increasingly affects first- and second-generation Manitobans, many of whom are employed in working-class positions in the private sector. The only way to ensure these jobs are protected is through a rigorous labour policy and city-wide unionization. The workers at Canada Goose are still fighting to unionize after a failed 2019 bid and, with enough worker support, could push for a stronger result this year. 

Vinay Sharma is a third-year philosophy student. His main interests are political philosophy and the philosophy of language.

Published in Volume 75, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 3, 2021)

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