How often have you thought about the labour in Labour Day?
In Canada, Labour Day’s origins can be traced back to the late 1800’s when unionized organizations went on strike for a shorter work week (something like 58 hours!). Although police made arrests related to these demonstrations, unions continued to march on Ottawa, prompting then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to revoke the anti-union laws of the time. Unions continued to protest for shorter work weeks and better conditions for workers.
As in the United States, Labour Day is observed on the first Monday in September, in recognition of this history as well as the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our countries.
As this Labour Day approaches, I would like you to consider and celebrate just how far we’ve come. Back in the 1870’s, workers were required to work long hours in unsafe workplaces where they were often exposed to the risk of physical injury, and even death. Psychological injuries weren’t even acknowledged nor was there any kind of disability compensation for workers while they recovered from illnesses or injuries caused by work conditions. Workers didn’t speak up because they needed their jobs and didn’t have any other options.
Little by little this changed over the decades and credit is owed to many front runners in the labour movement as well as forward-thinking business leaders who worked tirelessly and often at great personal and professional risk on behalf of workers.
Today, workers in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces are protected by stringent guidelines that safeguard both their physical and psychological health and safety at work. The Duty to Accommodate page on the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the workplace’s website highlights some of these requirements and includes links to the human rights codes information.
We now even have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and there are a growing number of organizations and agencies dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and the prevention of psychological injury in workplaces. In addition to the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, there’s Mindful Employer Canada, Mental Health Works, The Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association and many others. I’d like to give a personal shout out to my colleagues at Mary Ann Baynton & Associates who are workplace relations specialists dedicated to helping organizations resolve workplace issues related to mental health.
So as you enjoy this upcoming Labour Day with your last picnic or to wrap up final weekend of the summer, perhaps as you look up at the fireworks, or just bask in time with your family and friends, remember those workers who paved the way for the improved workplace that you may be returning to on Tuesday morning.