Back in 2015, a small group of workers in BC noticed a trend of negative experiences in their sectors of work – from labour rights violations like wage theft and discrimination, to unsafe work environments prone to bullying and harassment.
Without proper employment standards in place to safeguard them, they decided to advocate for the protection of all workers and build a network of support, now known as the Worker Solidarity Network (WSN) – an advocacy organization with over 350 grassroots members.
After years of organizing worker communities, WSN’s Executive Director, Pam Charron, shares how precarious workers tend to feel disempowered when advocating for better job conditions.
“The problem is workers have very little redress to correct injustices in the workplace, and if they do, they often face retaliation or loose employment for standing up for their rights,” says Pam.
“Through our Solidarity Stewards Program, we provide a safe space for workers to voice the things that they care about and offer support on how to do a workplace campaign, or how to unionize a workplace.”
With support from a Vancity grant, WSN designed and launched a suite of educational resources shared through WSN’s Solidarity Stewards Program, including translated documents in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Korean and Punjabi.
“It’s been great working with Vancity, their process is very helpful and inclusive which gives us courage and confidence to be able to do the work that we’re good at,” says Pam. “It’s a great feeling to know we have a partner that shares the goal of providing decent work for everyone.”
These resources provide accessible information about worker rights, insights on how to deal with gender-based violence in the workplace, and support with the process of filing an Employment Standards Complaint, amongst others.
“We have more capacity now, so we were also able to increase the frequency of our Know Your Rights (KYR) workshops – in 2023 we had 20 workshops and over 500 participants!” says Pam.
In addition, WSN teamed up with a group of mental health professionals to create a comprehensive mental health at work video series – 10 online videos that address issues commonly found in lower wage, non-unionized job sectors like hectic work schedules and eco-anxiety.
In 2022, WSN and Vancity entered a three-year partnership powered by $100,000 of granting to support WSN’s efforts to grow and positively shape the future of decent work – including worker solidarity campaigns that affect meaningful policy change.
“The importance of WSN’s work cannot be overstated,” says Tiffany Ottahal, Community Investment Manager at Vancity. “Most of the benefits workers enjoy today, like paid sick leave across all federally regulated private sector workplaces, were achieved through years of political pressure from WSN and different organizations campaigning for workers’ rights.”
During the spring of 2023, after a torrent of heat stress complaints during the heat dome, WSN released a detailed report on the impact of extreme weather events on food service workers in BC. This report, paired with years of the WSN and other organizations’ advocacy led to the creation of the government’s sustainable jobs act.
In the coming years, Pam and the team at WSN look forward to continue pushing for policy change to ensure that workers’ discussions around a just transition are being heard.
Vancity is one of Canada’s largest private sector living wage employers and is one of the largest funders of union-sponsored initiatives in BC, including research, education and advocacy, and skills-training and certification programs. In 2022, Vancity provided over $1.5 million to labour-affiliated projects.
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