Minimum wage, NAFTA renegotiation, workplace equity hot topics at Labour Day parade

Colourful banners, flags and floats filled Queen Street on Monday as workers and union members came out for the annual Labour Day parade. Many who marched say they’re celebrating the strides they’ve seen in recent months.

This year's parade theme was 'Stand Up and Speak Out'

Colourful banners and flags take over Queen Street at the annual Labour Day parade. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Colourful banners, flags and floats filled Queen Street on Monday as workers and union members came out for Toronto's annual Labour Day parade.

Many who marched say they're celebrating the strides they've seen in recent months.

"Today is a day to celebrate the collective power we're building. Look at the successes that working people are actually beginning to achieve," said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.

"It took two years of organizing from people on the ground, but we are now debating raising the minimum wage so people who work full-time hours don't have to live in poverty," the labour activist told CBC Toronto.

Hahn was referring to a proposal earlier this year by Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government to raise the province's minimum wage to $15 by 2019 as part of a wider package of labour reforms. Hahn also spoke positively about the current effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) undertaken by Canada, Mexico and the United States, and Canada's push to put the concerns of the labour movement front-and-centre in the talks. 

"We're in the midst of negotiating a NAFTA re-negotiation where we actually have labour at the table talking about making sure trade deals aren't just about corporations," he added.

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, says Labour Day is a time to celebrate the collective power workers are achieving. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

The theme of this year's parade: "Step Up and Speak Out."

Hahn says this speaks to the unions' "determination to challenge racism in our society as we see it.

"This is about good wages — yes, good fair deals — yes, but it's also about standing up against racism and discrimination in the workplace."

But Maryellen McIlmoyle, president of UNIFOR Local 673, says there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

'Always an uphill batlle'

"Pay equity is still a challenge, women in the workforce, women in leadership; it's always an uphill battle," she said.

NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, who represents Bramalea-Gore-Malton in Peel Region, told CBC Toronto that Labour Day is also a time to acknowledge the sacrifices and hard work of labour activists over the decades.

"The rights we have in the workplace, our work week, having weekends off, the workplace safety we have — a lot of this is due to the labour movement," said Singh, who is running for the leadership of the federal New Democrats.

Maryellen McIlmoyle, president of Unifor Local 673, says unions face an uphill battle when it comes to gender equity in the workplace. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Mayor John Tory also made an appearance. He says he is confident about the state of labour in the city.

"You don't see a lot of disputes because I think we've figured out it's a partnership between working men and women, businesses and government to get things done," Tory said.

He believes the provincial government's proposed hike of the minimum hourly wage will give Torontonians "a fairer wage to live in a very expensive city."

"I hope the government will be true to its word and take a look at the impact on small businesses. Businesses have to survive as well, but on balance i think they will figure that out," the mayor said.