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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 4, January/February 2007

CLC’s newest affiliate gets a major boost

The BC Teachers’ Federation has something new in its arsenal as it tries to force the BC Liberal government to adhere to international labour laws. For the first time since the International Labour Congress (ILO) initially found the BC Liberals guilty of contravening international laws, the BCTF is able to count on the considerable clout and strength of the Canadian Labour Congress, thanks to its recent CLC affiliation.

CLC President Ken Georgetti joined BCTF President Jinny Sims at a news conference outside the BC Federation of Labour annual meeting, to slam the Campbell Liberals for their lack of respect of international law. "As president of the CLC, I call on the Canadian government to take steps to guarantee the enforcement, in Canada, of internationally recognized labour rights," said Georgetti. "I call on the government of BC in particular, to return without delay, to democratically accepted standards of labour relations, to respect the rights of its citizens and the conventions that we have signed onto."

Despite four rulings against them, the BC Liberals continue to thumb their nose at international laws to which Canada is a signatory by ignoring the rulings. In this latest decision, however, the ILO has even taken the unusual step of offering to help the BC government and the federal government adhere to international regulations. BCTF President Jinny Sims says, "If the Liberals don’t have the skill set or the knowledge base or the professional expertise to do this by themselves, they should avail themselves of this international offer, and take away the stigma that BC has a government that ignores workers’ rights."

Georgetti says the Liberals’ flagrant and repeated violations are "an international embarrassment for all Canadians," a matter of justice for workers and a matter of justice and compliance with our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sims says it appears "the Liberals are slow learners. You can make a mistake once or twice, but you hope to learn from it. We’re hoping that the shame that we, as Canadians, are subjected to over and over, will force this government to take some action."

The CLC has asked the ILO’s director general "to directly contact the Prime Minister of Canada and ask him why the Canadian government is ignoring conventions that they have been signatory to," Georgetti says. "The real test will be in the court of public opinion. If the governments don’t value the rights of their own citizens, why are they governing?"

Georgetti has pledged labour’s ongoing support. "The beauty of the labour movement is that we don’t stop until we win. We’ll continue to put pressure on the various levels of government to honor these rights. It’s ironic that the rights of citizens—human rights—are less important than commercial agreements."

The CLC president cautions that Canada’s tarnished international reputation will have a detrimental affect on the country’s current labour shortage. "Canada, unfortunately, has a very bad record internationally in terms of the number of violations of conventions that are basic human rights. This will continue, but as we search for new workers, it’s not lost on workers from other countries who want to come to Canada. If they have choices, and see Canada’s record at the ILO, maybe they’ll opt to work in other countries."

Sims says we can not afford to quit because "so much is riding on it. We can not be silenced in either our advocacy or our actions. A better world is built when we respect the rights of people."

– Yvonne Eamor

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