Engaging in the climate justice movement through research into environmental racism and pathways to green jobs in the trades through community partnership agreements, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) ensures the under represented and minority groups in workplaces are given fair treatment — safeguarding equality at all levels of work. With the increase in part-time and precarious work in Canada, many employees are being left without a voice when it comes to issues affecting them at work.

According to Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), labour unions can help give that voice back.

“When people want to join a union, it’s to address real and material problems in the workplace,” he says.

Organizing helps ensure workers’ health and safety, assists them in standing up for their rights, and educates them about the legal protections available to them.

“Without those protections in place, we find a lot more situations where people are stuck,” says Ramsaroop. He adds that when workers feel stuck they can find themselves affected by mental health issues, like anxiety or stress brought on by their jobs.

Occupational segregation

Ramsaroop says it’s necessary to use both racial and equity lenses when contending with workplace issues like health and safety. To understand the necessity, he says, all you have to do is examine who is doing what kind of work and under what conditions.

“The most precarious workers face racism and sexism through occupational segregation,” says Ramsaroop. “I organize with farm workers, and in those workplaces you have racialized workers doing the most dangerous work.”
On farms, Ramsaroop deals with a lot of migrant workers who encounter cultural and language barriers that make it difficult to address workplace issues, let alone spearhead change. He says the jobs they perform are often the most physically taxing and have the most potential to be unsafe.

“You don’t blame workers for injustices in the workplace,” says Ramsaroop. He adds that it’s not the employee but the employer who has the bulk of the responsibility to make the workplace safer.
“Every tragedy that I know of that’s happened in the workplace is positioned as the worker’s fault,” he says. “In retrospect, we find a different story.”

Changing the narrative

Part of how this is changing the narrative is through provincial and federal legislation. According to Ramsaroop, current legislation is colourblind. While it treats everyone equally in theory, he says, it neglects the fact that in practice there are many factors that are barriers to true equity. He says it’s up to the public to question whether or not the government is taking equity into account when enacting new legislation.
Ramsaroop says there has to be a collective push, noting that advancing equity isn’t going to be done by one person alone. In the past, the push was mobilized by horrific workplace accidents and a lack of employee protection, he says.

Ramsaroop doesn’t think it needs to get to that point again. “It shouldn’t take people dying in our workplaces to inspire change."