Workers in Canada are entitled to a diverse range of human rights in the workplace. Yet many times those rights have been denied. Workers have organized to protect and uphold their rights, creating positive change in the process.
The exhibit Rights on the Job tells the story of three important human rights struggles undertaken by workers in their respective workplaces. It also underlines the importance of solidarity among workers.
Black sleeping car porters
In the early 1900s, Black men in Canada had few job opportunities due to racism. Many found employment as sleeping car porters with Canada’s railways. They catered to overnight passengers and ensured their comfort. This job meant steady work and travel, but it was also demeaning and exhausting. Porters worked long hours, had no job security and were expected to act in a servile manner. They faced racism from passengers and were denied other jobs with the railroad. Determined to improve their working conditions, the porters organized with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1942.
Elliot Lake uranium miners
Miners in Elliot Lake, Ontario, suspected there were links between mining uranium and the high incidences of lung cancer and silicosis among them. In 1974, two of their union representatives learned that the Government of Ontario knew about the high rates of cancer but had done nothing to disclose these health risks nor to protect them. The miners went on a three-week-long wildcat strike. This led to a royal commission on mine health and safety, which prompted Ontario to pass its first Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1978.
Indigenous communities in Canada have long faced obstacles to accessing health care. The government has not always fulfilled its treaty obligations, leading to substandard treatment. Medical professionals are largely non-Indigenous with little understanding of Indigenous cultural practices and languages. In 1975, a group of Indigenous nurses formed an organization known today as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA). They sought to improve health outcomes for Indigenous people. Today, CINA supports thousands of Indigenous nurses striving to fulfill its mandate.
Rights on the Job opens in the What Are Human Rights? gallery on Level 2 in November 2019 and runs until October 2020.