Union representatives were out in force in Toronto on Labour Day, calling for workers' rights to be central to the post-pandemic recovery.
On Monday, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council was joined by workers' unions in a cavalcade parade of cars, trucks and bicycles that travelled from Nathan Phillips Square to Queen's Park.
The annual Labour Day march to celebrate workers' rights returned this year after a brief hiatus in 2020, when the pandemic meant it became a virtual event for the first time in over 100 years. This year, the march became a cavalcade due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Union representatives used the occasion to call for a "just recovery" for workers as the country navigates the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Called "Rise Up for A Just Recovery," this year's event focuses on the challenges faced by many workers in the province, which had been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Labour council president Andria Babbington said the high rates of burnout and exhaustion in the health care sector and job losses in the hospitality industry were prime examples.
"The pandemic peeled back the curtain for us to see what was real all this time," Babbington said.
She added that while all levels of government are eager to return to normal, "normal isn't good enough."
Babbington said the event was important ahead of the federal election this month as parties vie for worker votes.
"This is an opportunity for them to get it right," she said. "It's important they can show they're worth those votes."
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. The council is a representative body of labour unions in Toronto and York Region with more than 220,000 women and men working in every sector of the economy.
Members include health care workers, education and child care workers, grocery store clerks, municipal staff, transit workers, firefighters and paramedics.
Toronto Steelworkers Area Council president Carolyn Egan was at the event to demand permanent sick days for workers, a $20 minimum wage and for the manufacturing sector to "stop pressuring workers to produce more and more to make up for pandemic losses."
Pandemic highlighted 'many gaps'
Labour council secretary Abdi Hagi Yusuf said a recovery must cover all workers whether they're unionized or not. He said the pandemic highlighted the "many gaps the government did not prioritize," such as the distribution of personal protective equipment in workplaces and the vaccine rollout.
He also said the gig economy needs better regulation.
Carlos Santos, vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents TTC workers, said 1,000 members have been infected with COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic because so many showed up for work while sick.
There was also an increase in assaults against transit staff during the pandemic, he said, adding there's "no reason" that should happen.
Jeff Irons, vice president of IBEW Local 353, which represents construction workers, said that more than a century after Canada's first Labour Day, trade workers are still demanding improved working conditions.
"We're simply trying to earn a day's pay and return home at night safe and sound," he said.
Among those demands are regularly maintained washroom facilities, COVID-19 protocols that are adhered to and an end to the "get 'er done" mentality that puts a strain on workers.