The first Monday of September isn’t just the last day of the summer holidays. Labour Day isn’t just a name, or a weekend to stay home and watch the Riders beat the Bombers again.
It’s a day for the labour movement to celebrate past and future victories. Monday the Prince Albert District Labour Council did just that.
The labour council put on a free barbecue at the Union Centre from noon until 3 p.m. The event saw support from at least four city councillors (Charlene Miller, Evert Botha, Don Cody and Terra Lennox-Zepp) as well as Nicole Rancourt, the riding’s MLA and the NDP’s labour critic.
“We always hold a barbecue on Labour Day to honour the people that are working and our past work,” said David Miller, president of the labour council.
“We have a free barbecue for them, with hot dogs, hamburgers and cake. It’s always been put on. Lots of times we get sponsorship from the unions too.”
Fittingly, the event was held inside the union centre.
“Labour Day is so very important,” Rancourt said while taking a break from dishing out burgers. “It’s a day to recognize how far we’ve come with providing benefits for working people, but it’s also a time to realize there are some ways we need to improve to ensure the labour market is supported.”
Canada’s Labour Day celebrations date back to 1872, when parades and rallies were held in Ottawa and Toronto according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
That predates American Labour Day celebrations, which began as parades in 1882, and European celebrations, which have been ongoing since 1889 on May 1, May Day.
Canada briefly observed the spring holiday, but the need for a long weekend at the end of summer was recognized by Parliament in 1894.
“The reason we have 40-hour workweeks is because of the labour movement. The reason we have a lot of these standards is because of the labour movement,” Rancourt said.
“When people think of Labour Day, they often think of the labour movement. We need to recognize how the labour movement ensures that all workers in our province are receiving benefits. The labour movement … wanted to make sure all workers were safe in the workplace. This is a moment to realize we have those benefits because of the work the labour movement has done.”
Rancourt pointed to Jimmy’s Law, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety At that requires retail employers to schedule at least two workers on late-night shifts or ensure that a worker is behind locked doors or a barrier when alone. It also requires that customers prepay for fuel sold during late night hours.
The private member’s bill, introduced by NDP MLA David Forbes and passed by the ruling Saskatchewan Party government was supported by the province’s labour movement. It was named for Jimmy Wiebe, who was shot and killed during a robbery at a gas station in Yorkton in June 2011.
Rancourt said Jimmy’s Law is an example of an impact the labour movement has had on workers in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces.
Miller said holidays like Labour Day also wouldn’t exist without the labour movement.
“The importance of Labour Day is to honour the workers who have fought for unions, because if it wasn’t for unions, we wouldn’t have any legislation in place for workers,” he said.
The federal government put out a statement to commemorate Labour Day.
“I am honoured to celebrate with you the many accomplishments of Canadian workers and Canada’s labour movement,” said Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
“Without these tremendous efforts and achievements, we would not have the many labour rights and benefits we have today. As we celebrate our shared commitment to supporting fair, safe and productive workplaces, I wish all Canadians a safe and happy Labour Day.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe put out a brief message on Twitter.
“Happy Labour Day to all our hardworking families across Saskatchewan,” he said.
“Hope you enjoy a well-earned day of rest.”