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The Essential Workforce

There are workers who put everything on the line for everyone else. Ultimately, their well-being is essential to the health of all.

Personal support workers and healthcare workers are stopping the spread of COVID-19 and providing vital care to seniors and patients in long-term care homes and hospitals across Ontario, amongst staff shortages. Early childhood educators are continuing to care for children. Migrant farm workers are growing the crops that feed us, and grocery store workers are getting us food safely. Cleaners are working to keep buildings safe. Nonprofit social service workers are making sure people receive their benefits and the aid they need. 

Essential workers take big risks to take good care of others, but their wages and working conditions make it hard for them to take care of themselves and their families. They deserve more than gratitude. That’s why Atkinson supports the groups, organizations and networks who expect more and organize to protect their rights.

Women of colour and immigrants make up this workforce and lead these organizing efforts. Few are members of a union. For years, they’ve been fighting for decent wages and benefits, personal protective equipment, more predictability at work, fair immigration status, and adequate funding for their sectors. And they’re reimagining and advocating for a just, green economy that provides decent work and shares wealth more equitably.

The Justice for Workers campaign (formerly the Fight for $15 and Fairness) continues to organize essential workers and organizations dedicated to their interests — just as they did during the years that led to historic reforms in employment standards and labour relations in 2017. This campaign has its origins in the Government of Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review. It led to Bill 148 — the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act — which increased minimum wage, provided paid sick days, and improved enforcement practices among other provisions. This legislation was reversed when a new government passed Bill 47 — the Making Ontario Open for Business Act — in 2018.

Here’s a backgrounder on the issues on the agenda of the Changing Workplaces Review. It’s by the Toronto Star‘s Work and Wealth Reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh.

In everything Atkinson does, we are proponents of the principle of decency: no matter how limited a worker’s bargaining power, no one is offered, accepts or works under conditions that Canadians would not regard as ‘decent’. The Workers’ Action Centre’s Deena Ladd explains why when she accepted the first Atkinson Good Fight Prize on behalf of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in 2017 — on the occasion of the Foundation’s 75th anniversary.

Atkinson’s partners and collaborators have published research to inform public policy development on a wide range of issues related to decent work. Here is a sample of the reports we’ve supported since 2014.

Accessing Decent Work
Perspectives from Indigenous Support Services in Toronto
In 2018, TASSC undertook research to understand how workers in Indigenous support services agencies in Toronto view, value, and experience decent work and contribute to decent work narratives through Indigenous ways of knowing.
Change Work
Valuing Decent Work in the Not-for-Profit Sector
This report was a collaborative effort of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, the Mowat Centre and the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres. It looks at the notion of "decent work" through a nonprofit lens and actions needed to realize this goal.
Decent Work in the Green Economy
What impact will a green transition have on Ontario’s economy? This 2017 paper undertook sector-by-sector analysis to consider impact on workers, opportunities for growth, and policy interventions needed.
Employment Insurance
Next Steps on the Road to Renewal
This January 2019 paper by Dr. Donna E. Wood makes the case for a comprehensive review of Canada's Employment Insurance Program.
Employment Insurance @ 75
A Roundtable on Canada’s Decent Work Program
This is the record of a discussion on Canada’s Employment Insurance Program hosted by the Atkinson Foundation, Mowat Centre and Broadbent Institute in October 2017.