International RSI Day: “Because Work Shouldn’t Hurt”


Invisible injuries are some of the most dangerous occupational injuries plaguing today’s workforce.

According to Statistics Canada, every year approximately 2.3 million Canadians experience Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs). In Ontario alone, RSIs account for more than 40% of all lost-time injuries allow by the WSIB – making these injuries the single largest class of compensation claims in the province.

Despite their widespread prevalence, these injuries are often dismissed, ignored, or unidentified.

Today, on International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Day, it is important to recognize those who suffer from these injuries, as well as to raise awareness and prevent these debilitating injuries from happening to workers.

RSIs, also known as musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs), affect muscles, tendons and nerves of the neck, back, shoulders and hands and are a result of a variety of factors, such as repetition, forceful movements, awkward positions, cold temperatures, stress, fast-paced work, and vibration. The disease affects a wide range of workers across different sectors, with common symptoms such as discomfort, pain, numbness, tingling and weakness. The symptoms are often gradual so it’s important to raise awareness so workers seek help from their doctor, supervisor and Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) as soon as they notice issues, as they can be treated much easier if diagnosed early.

Recognizing RSIs as being work-related is also vital because there is a strong link between RSIs and mental health issues, another potentially debilitating invisible injury which requires greater awareness. It is important to raise awareness on both visible and invisible illnesses in the workplace.



Black History is Canada’s History

Black History Month is a great time to learn about Canada’s rich, complex, and diverse history. Throughout the month of February, SEIU Healthcare has highlighted and celebrated some of the many achievements black Canadians have contributed, but are often still unknown.

I just learned the first black person to set foot on Canadian soil was named Mathieu de Costa, who landed on the shores of Nova Scotia sometime in-between 1603 to 1608. He was a free man and a translator who sailed with French explorer Pierre Dugua. Mathieu could speak more than four different languages, including Dutch, English, French, and Portuguese.

Mathieu de Costa

Mathieu de Costa

The first black person to live in Canada was Olivier Le Jeune, a slave from Madagascar who was bought to Quebec by his British owner. By 1759 there were nearly 4,000 slaves in the French colony. Less than 1,200 were black, and the rest were aboriginal. Slavery was not a big part of the Canadian economy. Free blacks also settled in Quebec after serving in the French Army and Navy. Others were indentured servants who voluntarily moved to the new world.

Olivier Le Jeune

Oliver Le Jeune

Canada’s black population grew after the American Revolution. In 1767 there were only a few hundred black people living in Nova Scotia, but after the American Revolution that number swelled to 6,000, including both free and enslaved people. Unfortunately racism throughout Nova Scotia was so bad that over 1,000 migrated to Africa and established Freetown, the current capital of the West African country Sierre Leone.

The black population grew again in 1796 after nearly 600 free black Jamaicans moved to Nova Scotia. But many didn’t like the cold, harsh winter and departed for the warmer climate in Freetown in Sierre Leone.

In the early 1800s the abolitionist movement began to gain momentum, advocating for greater restrictions on slavery. But by the time slavery was abolished in Canada in 1833, only a minority of Canadian blacks were slaves. By 1837, Canadian black men were given the right to vote. This was in stark contrast to the United States where tens of thousands of black people fled to Canada to escape slavery and the country’s strict race laws.

Our full Canadian history is made up of many stories which we’ve yet to discover, explore, and learn about going beyond the month of February.


Free risk assessment tool: My Cancer IQ


Cancer Care Ontario has developed an online tool called My Cancer IQ to check your risk of developing four different types of cancer. You answer several questions about lifestyle and family history and then it tells you the results, elaborating on what is increasing or decreasing your cancer risk. The tool then provides a personalized action plan, with tips based on the answers to your questions, for example:

Eating 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit each day (as you’ve been doing) may lower your risk of developing several cancers, including lung cancer. Keep up the great work!

Each recommendation has links to resources that help you and each question is linked to an explanation of why it is relevant and what the scientific research has shown.

There is special information for healthcare providers to share this tool with patients.

This tool is a fantastic user-friendly resource to help us be mindful of our cancer risk and the solutions we have to lower that risk for ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients.

Labour rights vs. slavery on World Day of Social Justice

world day of social justice

It is hard to believe that slavery still exists.

Today is World Day of Social Justice, declared by the United Nations, and this year there is a particular focus on human exploitation and forced labour.

Forced labour is illegal by international standards—UN member countries have agreed on this. There is a law, a Forced Labour Convention that dates back to 1930 but has since been updated to reinvigorate the global fight against forced labour, including human trafficking, the buying and selling of human beings against their will.

It appears that where exploitation is possible and tolerated, some people will take advantage of the relative powerlessness of others for their own gain. Needless to say, it’s crass, it’s cruel, and it’s disrespectful.

While the fight for workers’ rights in Canada continues with employers continually trying to drive down wages and benefits, plus certain politicians who want to weaken unions, we are incredibly fortunate for the most part from a global perspective.

Let’s take a moment to be grateful for the labour laws brought to us over decades of struggle by worker activists in Ontario and across North America. It’s because of those workers and activists and politicians that worked with them that we have come so far.

Whether on our soil or off it, let’s show solidarity with global workers whenever possible. Everyone deserves to be paid for their labour and to be treated with human dignity.


Unemployment is down. But is this a good thing?


According to a news report published by the Canadian Press, the unemployment rate in January 2015 went down to 6.6%. Over 47,000 jobs were created last month. This is good news, right? Well, not really. If you take a closer look at the numbers, the news doesn’t look as promising.

First, the economy shed nearly 12,000 jobs in January. That means there was only a net increase of 35,000 jobs. But most of the 12,000 jobs that were lost were full-time positions, and the majority of the 47,000 jobs created were part-time. These numbers reflect a growing dependence on part-time workers rather than full-time staff.

Unfortunately, this is not a new trend. In 1997 there were about 25,000 part-time employees looking for full-time work. In 2013 that number went up to well over 100,000 people, a 300% increase in only 15 years. This number does not include people who prefer part-time over full-time work. These people are actively seeking a full-time job but can’t find it.

This can be a frustrating experience for a lot of people. Full-time work offers a level of stability that part-time work simply doesn’t offer. Full-time employee are more likely to receive better vacation time, superior health and dental benefits, higher pay, and enhanced job security.

It was welcome news when Ontario’s Labour Minister Kevin Flynn announced the Ontario Government will be reviewing the province’s labour and employment laws, particularly the Employment Standards Act.

The Workers’ Action Centre, a labour rights group, felt this was a step in the right direction. The Action Centre stated the current laws do little to protect part-time workers. In the past companies have lobbied the government to exempt certain workers from basic rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and public holiday wages.

Sometimes employers will even misclassify their staff as independent contractors. Those workers lose their legal protection as well as their entitlements to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.

Everyone in Ontario deserves a stable, living wage. Employers also need to remember that a happy worker with a stable job will be more productive than a person  employed in precarious work.


Assisted suicide to become legal in Canada


The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the ban on assisted suicide. Our highest court has decided that we should have the right to ask our doctor for help to die. This gives us an option other than having the medical system actively trying to keep us alive against all odds or passively waiting for death to occur eventually on its own.

The desire to die commonly follows unbearable pain and discomfort, coupled with a sense of hopelessness. Often, one knows physical death is imminent anyway. But there are some unanswered questions about when, how, and who exactly can request and access help to die.

According a Globe and Mail report on the ruling, the decision says this option should be available to an adult who “clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

What jumps out at me is the term “intolerable.” Maybe some of us will one day experience death that is relatively quick or tolerable, at the very least. But the slow, intolerable death of a human being is a tragedy that no one should be forced to experience at the end of their life.

I wrote about Toronto’s Dr. Donald Low who experienced a lingering death from a brain tumour. He made a famous video in which he said: “What worries me is how I’m going to die. What the end is going to look like. […] Why make people suffer for no reason when there’s an alternative?”

Clearly there are many grey areas here but I think we are moving forward as a society when we are able to look at this type of upsetting issue and ultimately give people more agency in decisions about their life and death.

The CRA charity audits and the right-wing push to privatize healthcare


Is fighting for the right to dismantle universal public healthcare an act of charity?

This was the question asked by CBC journalist Kelly Crowe this week in her article about legal action being taken by two right-wing advocacy groups to allow private industry to deliver healthcare for profit.

The cases have been exposed as back-door attempts to challenge the Canada Health Act and other laws that uphold universal access to public healthcare in Canada. Overturning these laws would open the door to a two-tier health system that allows those who can afford it to jump the queue for health services, siphoning resources from the public system and undermining the principle that access to healthcare depends on need, not ability to pay.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are supporting cases in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario that argue denying patients the right to pay for surgeries, diagnostics and other procedures in private health clinics is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Interestingly, these right-wing think tanks are registered as charities, a status that allows them and their donors to receive generous federal tax credits in exchange for ensuring they do not spend more than 10 percent of their budget on political activities. Yet the charitable donations received by these groups are clearly being used to pursue legal, legislative and policy objectives that are inherently political.

Furthermore, some of their funding comes from an American group called the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a network of right-wing, free-market think tanks. Atlas receives much of its funding, in turn, from the infamous Koch brothers, best known for their plans to spend nearly $900 million to influence the 2016 US elections in favour of candidates who oppose public healthcare in the US.

These right-wing legal challenges to public healthcare are set against a backdrop of mounting evidence that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) charity audits are being used as a political tool to silence opponents of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

Since 2012, the Conservative government has allocated almost $14 million to the CRA to audit charities deemed to be using donations for political activities. So far, nearly 60 of Canada’s 86,000 registered charities have been audited.

Strangely, the vast majority of these audits have targeted organizations who are known to be critical of government policies, raising concerns that the audits are being used to silence opposing voices. In particular, environmental, human rights, anti-poverty organizations and progressive policy think tanks have been singled out for audits. An October 2014 study by the Broadbent Institute outlines how the CRA audits have been politicized to target critical voices while right-wing groups have escaped scrutiny.

These findings raise disturbing questions: Why are CRA resources being used to selectively audit organizations conducting research and advocacy to protect our natural environment, eliminate poverty, and support human rights? And why are groups actively trying to undermine public healthcare—something Canadians consistently value as a public good that defines our country—free to maintain their charitable status?

I doubt that thousands of frontline SEIU Healthcare members and their families would view fighting to dismantle public healthcare as an act of charity.