Author Archives: Pierre St-Jacques

Important moments and leaders in Asian Canadian labour history

Asian Canadian Heritage Month is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Asian labour activism to Canada. PSAC is proud to share some of the moments that have shaped Asian Canadian labour history.

Racialized Asian labour part of Canada’s first colonial trade settlements

In 1788, the first Asian workers in Canada were brought to Nuu-chah-nulth territory in British Columbia as forced labourers to build some of the first colonial British trade settlements in present day British Columbia.

Canada’s national railway built with exploited racialized labour

Chinese workers on CPR line, 1884, Library and Archives Canada

In the early 1880s, 15,000 to 17,000 Chinese workers built Canada’s national railway. Given dangerous work in unsafe conditions, many Chinese labourers did not return home. It is estimated that three workers died for every mile of track laid. Over the railway’s construction from 1880 to 1885, nearly 2,000 workers died from horrible accidents, an absence of proper food, and a lack of medical aid.

Punjabi sawmill workers

Sikh sawmill workers, Vancouver Public Library

First arriving in 1903, thousands of Sikh immigrant workers built British Columbia’s lumber and sawmilling industries. Generations of Sikh families who found work in sawmills faced racial discrimination. The legacy of sawmill workers can be seen in the Cowichan Valley town of Paldi, named after the home of many workers in the Punjab region of India.

Chinese Laundry Workers’ Union

Photo of a laundry business in Toronto 1923 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

In 1906 the Chinese Laundry Workers’ Union demanded higher wages, a two-hour lunch break, and no work on Sundays. These leaders inspired the formation of more Chinese workers to form their own unions: Chinese Railroad Workers, the Chinese Canadian Labour Union, the Chinese Cooks’ Union, and the Chinese Restaurant Workers Union. The Chinese Labour Association was formed in 1916.

The first Japanese-Canadian union

Exclusion from unions was one outcome of rampant racism. In 1919, about 200 Japanese-Canadian workers at the Swanson Bay Mill went on strike to gain equal pay with white workers. This led to the Japanese Camp and Mill Workers Union, the first Japanese-Canadian labour union.

Joe Miyazawa

Joe Miyazawa addresses a TLC-CCL anti-racism workshop, International Woodworkers of America

In the 1940s, Joe Miyazawa helped to organize the Kamloops sawmill where he and other Japanese-Canadians worked. Following World War II, Joe became an organizer with the International Woodworkers of America, later becoming associate director of research.

Roy Mah

Labour activist and journalist Roy Mah, Paul Yee

A leader within Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian community, Roy Mah recognized harmful impacts of divisions based on race and sought to unite workers. He became an organizer in 1944, and through his organizing, brought as many as 2,500 Chinese-Canadian workers into the union. Mah also wrote and edited a Cantonese edition of the union newsletter, believed to be the first such publication in North America.

Darshan Singh Canadian
(Darshan Singh Sangha)

Darshan Singh Sangha with mill workers in 1940s
Heritage Foundation

Darshan Singh Sangha came to Canada in 1937 when he was 19 years old. Finding work in a sawmill and joining a Sikh community of Punjabi immigrants, Darshan saw firsthand the extremely poor and unequal conditions that he and other Asian workers faced. Darshan later served as the International Woodworkers of America’s Secretary General and led a worker’s march to Victoria in 1946. He led a strike for 37 days that resulted in legal rights to an eight-hour work day, increased pay, and better working conditions.

Asian Canadian Labour Alliance

Asian Canadian Labour Alliance

Formed in 2000, the ACLA is a grassroots collective of community and labour activists aiming to develop an Asian Canadian labour identity. These activists have made many contributions to the labour movement and advocated for the working rights of not only people of Asian descent but of all racialized and marginalized communities. With more than 20 years of experience coalition-building among Asian workers, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance continues to push for solutions and justice for workers and communities.

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change

Worker Arts and Heritage Centre, 2007

Canada’s largest coalition of self-organized migrant workers, community groups, and unions, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change was formed in 2008 after care workers spoke out about exploitative working conditions. They were met with severe backlash from the media. This was the deciding factor in forming an alliance to fight for better working conditions for careworkers, seasonal agricultural workers, and temporary foreign workers.

Migrante Canada

International Migrants Day 2019, Facebook

Across Canada, Filipino activists have formed community organizations to advocate for the protection of temporary foreign workers. Many of these organizations exist under the banner of Migrante Canada. Formed in 2010, organizers work for changes to end harmful exploitation and systemic vulnerability of migrant workers, strengthen unity among the Filipino diaspora and uphold workers’ rights, fair wages, and due recognition.

Danielle Dubuc

Danielle Dubuc, Facebook

Recently re-elected in 2021, Danielle is the first woman of Asian descent elected as the Canadian Labour Congress Vice President for Workers of Colour, first elected in 2011. She has been an active member of PSAC and our component, the Customs and Immigration Union, for almost 30 years. Through organizing and education, Danielle has worked to ensure that human rights, equity, and the fight against all forms of racism are top priorities within the labour movement.

Hassan Yussuff

Hassan Yussuff © Canadian Labour Congress

Hassan emigrated from Guyana and became the first racialized president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) of South Asian descent from 2014 to 2021. In 1988, he joined the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) and within a year was elected Chairman of Local 252. He later became the CAW’s national staff representative and first director of human rights. In 1999, he became the CLC’s first racialized person to be elected to the executive as vice president and was then elected secretary-treasurer in 2002. With the CLC, he received the 2021 Canadian Freedom of Association Award for collaboration in Canada’s 2017 ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 98, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention. In 2021, Hassan was appointed to the Senate of Canada.

Sharon DeSousa

Sharon DeSousa, National Executive Vice-President, PSAC

Sharon DeSousa is the first racialized woman to be PSAC national executive vice-president. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Sharon came to Canada when she was five years old. Sharon began her career in the public service when she joined Human Resources Development Canada in 1998. While working as a benefits officer with Service Canada, she was elected as vice-president of equity for her local, Canadian Employment and Immigration Union Local 00648. She was the first racialized regional executive vice-president for Ontario in PSAC’s history in 2011 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2017.

Lily Chang

Lily Chang, Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Lily Chang is the first worker of East Asian descent to be elected to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) as secretary-treasurer in 2021.  As Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 79, Lily solidified the organization’s fiscal strength and acquired a building in downtown Toronto. She has also served as executive board member of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council as chair of the Municipal Committee.

This article was first posted on the PSAC website.

What to expect at PSAC’s 2022 convention

PSAC’s 2022 National Triennial Convention is being held virtually from May 26 to May 27 and May 30 to June 3.

PSAC’s national convention is unlike any other event within our union. Every three years, more than 500 members from communities across Canada attend to discuss and decide the path forward for our union.

However, the pandemic has forced us to adapt and make some changes.

Since PSAC’s 2021 convention was postponed due to the pandemic, the business of this convention will set the course for a shorter — but critically important — two-year window of opportunity instead of the usual three-year cycle.

We’re also holding this year’s convention virtually to protect the health and safety of our members and staff, and their communities and families when they return home.

Despite these changes, the business of this convention has not changed.

What to expect at PSAC’s 2022 convention

  • Debate about resolutions on PSAC initiatives, campaigns and changes to our union’s structure and rules;
  • A review of PSAC’s financial position and adoption of a new budget for the next two years;
  • The election of PSAC’s national president, national executive vice-president and alternate national executive vice-president to a two-year term;
  • A look back at the past four years of our victories and achievements;
  • And an address from Canadian Labour Congress President Bea Bruske.

For all the latest convention news:

This article was first posted on the PSAC website.

Delays at airports: CBSA & Minister Mendicino must ensure proper staffing at customs

Airplane seen from above.

OTTAWA, May 18, 2022 — As travellers arriving at Canada’s international airports continue to experience extensive delays, the National President of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) is calling upon the Minister of Public Safety and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to increase the number of border services officers assigned to passenger operations in Canadian airports and alleviate the pressure on both airport personnel and travellers.

“It is absolutely irresponsible of the federal government to let the situation stand as it is” said Mark Weber, CIU National President. “These delays are a source of frustration for all and contribute to the considerable overcrowding of already busy airports. I urge Minister Mendicino and CBSA to increase the number of border officers and review the infrastructure in place in order to speed up the processing of travellers.”

This situation was foreseeable: Over the past decade, the number of officers assigned to passenger operations has decreased dramatically. At present, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport alone, CIU estimates that fewer than 300 officers are active in the passenger operations section — nearly half of the number needed to process inbound travellers in a timely manner, and far less than were present just six years ago. This is not unique to Toronto either, with both Vancouver and Montreal facing similar staffing issues.

“The reality is that even with the eventual lifting of current public health measures, significant delays will likely persist, not only due to the critical shortage of officers in most border operations across the country, but also due to an over-reliance on inefficient technologies” explained Mark Weber, adding that the union estimates that an officer can process a traveller twice as fast as the automated Primary Inspection Kiosks.

During busy times, such kiosks also take away valuable space from travellers waiting to go through customs, causing an overflow of travellers outside of the customs area. In addition, many have noted that the new ArriveCan application makes the process more complex for travellers, adding to already substantial delays. While both these technologies may have their role to play, they are no substitute for the expertise of a trained officer, undermining in many ways the security of the country.

Ultimately, it should come as no surprise that there are significant delays in inbound traveller operations when few officers are assigned to primary inspection, with many booths remaining empty at peak times. With travel resuming in force, the situation is likely to worsen, and the primary solution is to ensure that enough border officers are available to process travellers at all major international airports in Canada.

PSAC declares impasse in Treasury Board bargaining over insulting wage offer

After nearly a year of negotiations with Treasury Board, we made the difficult decision to declare impasse for more than 120,000 of our members in the PASVTC and EB groups.

This week, we filed for conciliation with the federal labour board, and we’ll be ramping up our pressure on the government across the country this summer to reach a fair settlement quickly.

Every round of bargaining matters, but this one is especially critical. So much has changed for our members over the past two years, and our collective agreements need to reflect that. We’ve seen how the pandemic has impacted the way we live and work, and now the cost of living is getting out of hand.

We’re asking for sensible improvements to our members’ working conditions so that workers aren’t left behind. We need more options for remote work and better work-life balance as we recover from the pandemic, inclusive workplaces, better job security and fair wages that keep up with rising inflation.

But all we’ve seen at the table is disrespect from Treasury Board and a complete disregard for the issues that matter most to PSAC members. They have flat-out rejected our proposals on mental health and anti-racism and discrimination training for all federal public service workers.

They’re also hell-bent on pushing through concessions around technological change, discipline, leave provisions, and the Work Force Adjustment policy that will hurt workers.

But the real tipping point was the government’s insulting wage offer averaging 1.75% per year over a four-year agreement from 2021-2025 that’s entirely out of touch with record-high inflation.

If the government expects PSAC members who have been getting Canadians through the pandemic to shoulder the costs of Canada’s recovery, they’re in for a rude awakening.

You deserve a fair and decent contract, and we’ll be counting on your support over the weeks and months ahead to fight for the issues that impact you.

Taking strike action is always a last resort, but if we need to go on strike to get the contract you deserve, that’s exactly what we’ll do. We need to be prepared, get mobilized, stay engaged, and be ready to take action.

In solidarity,

Chris Aylward
PSAC National President

This article was first posted on the PSAC website.

PSAC kicks off Pride season with launch of Gender Inclusive Language Toolkit

Using inclusive language helps people feel valued and welcomed within our union, the labour movement, and our communities. By using gender inclusive language, we’re not only showing that we value inclusion, but we’re also promoting gender equity for all.

We’re proud to launch PSAC’s Gender Inclusive Language Toolkit on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and at the beginning of Pride season, in which we celebrate the activism, advocacy and resilience of LGBTQ2+ communities.

This toolkit is designed to help members, elected leaders and staff interact in a way that respects and celebrates our unique and diverse gender identities

According to the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey results, 21 per cent of gender diverse respondents indicated that they were victims of harassment on the job, compared to 10 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women. This demonstrates that the workplace is still not a safe place for trans, two-spirit and non-binary employees.

People should feel safe and supported regardless of their gender identity. This toolkit outlines the small but tangible steps we can all take to be more inclusive because respecting pronouns and gender identity is for everyone.

The toolkit arises from the “Gender Inclusive Terms” resolution adopted at the 2018 PSAC National Triennial Convention. Resolution GEN 18/100 called on PSAC to “find and implement alternative, more inclusive terms” and to “educate the membership on the importance of inclusivity in greetings.”

You can also download and print a brief one-pager to post on the union bulletin board in your workplace or share as a handout at events. This companion piece gives readers an overview of the topic and encourages them to learn more with the full toolkit.

This article was first posted on the PSAC website.