Little strike, big principles

Lana Payne
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While the provincial government and the doctors negotiate a new deal, said to be worth $400 million or more, a small group of mostly women workers on the Burin Peninsula are fighting for their share of economic justice. They have been doing so for over 170 days.
They have been on strike since the end of November - six months - against their employer, the non-profit Burin-Marystown Employment Support Board. But it is actually Treasury Board that is calling all the shots. If the volunteers who make up the board had their way, this strike would have never happened.

Critical principles
The high-profile contract talks with the doctors have had the legislature buzzing about fairness and the right to collective bargaining.
But it is this little strike, and the women who dared to stand up for themselves, that is the real David and Goliath. It also happens to be a strike about some very important principles.
The 14 female and one male employment support workers earn $10.62 an hour or less. They support people with disabilities so they can work.
Like most strikes, this one is about economic justice. But this strike is also about women's equality, how we build a more inclusive society, how we value the work carried out in our communities or in the non-profit sector and how we transform that sector from a pink ghetto.
This strike is really about the kind of society we want or should want.
If we want a more inclusive society that supports every citizen so they can participate to their potential, including citizens with disabilities, then we have to be willing to pay for it.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has said it supports such a society.
It has taken action on a number of fronts to build that more inclusive province, including the poverty reduction strategy, the establishment of the non-profit and community secretariat, the increases to the minimum wage and the creation of the provincial advisory council on the status of persons with disabilities, just to name a few.
This strike is about taking the next step on that road of building a different kind of world where women are paid decently for their work and where people with disabilities are able to more fully participate in that society.
These are lofty and important goals. Getting there has a cost. It also has huge social gain. The end result is a better society. A better world.
Getting there means we must rethink how we value work in the so-called social sector or helping professions. Because if we truly want a society where no one gets left behind, we have to build it.

Valuable work
The work carried out by these women is incredibly important. It is important because it says we want all citizens to participate to their fullest, to reach their potential, to be included in the things most of us take for granted - like having a job and all that this entails both economically and socially.
We know how important our jobs are to us. For many, work and family are what define us. Work is where we make friends and make a contribution. Work is good for the soul. It is something most of us take pride in. People with disabilities are no different.
For those who were unable to work without support, the loss of their employment during this dispute is taking a toll. They miss their jobs. They miss the friendships, the connections, being part of the larger community, being included in the community and contributing to that community.
For the support workers, this strike is about trying to improve their lot in life. It is about having their work recognized as being important and valued because they feel - and correctly so - that what they are doing adds value to our society.
It makes a difference in people's lives.
The employment support workers perform work that is essential to our province's ability to carry out its commitment to being truly inclusive. But this work is underpaid.
The fact is, the work carried out by women in a wide-range of occupations has been and continues to be undervalued.
It is tied to decades-old and systemic problems that are difficult to fix overnight, but not impossible. We can and must find ways to remedy these long-standing injustices.
The question in this strike is why has a line been drawn in the sand with these workers - a group of women, all but one, who make low wages, but who perform important life-changing and potentially society-changing work?
In anyone's books that's worth more than $10.62 an hour. In many people's books, it would be priceless.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at Her column returns June 19.

Organizations: Burin-Marystown Employment Support Board, Treasury Board, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • mildred
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Hats off to Lana & the few more out there who work everyday to make the world of women & others in our society a little better,without people like you it would be a sadder place keep up the good work.

  • mildred
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Hats off to Lana & the few more out there who work everyday to make the world of women & others in our society a little better,without people like you it would be a sadder place keep up the good work.