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IMPRIMER

CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS

Member Profile April 2012

In April 2012 CCIC caught up with Monique Charron, International Program Administrator at the Canadian Labour Congress, to create a member profile for our e-bulletin Flash. Here is the interview:

Monique Charron
Monique Charron - CLC International Program Administrator

CCIC: When was the Canadian Labour Congress created and what is its mandate?

Monique Charron: The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has been involved in international development since its founding in 1956 and CIDA has contributed to the activities since 1976. The CLC is the Canadian central labour body representing 3.2 million Canadian workers.

The Labour International Development Program (LIDP) was established in 1995 and had five members: The CLC, The Steelworkers Humanity fund (SHF), the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Humanity Fund, the Canadian Auto Workers Social Justice Fund (CAW-SJF) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Union Aid. The program’s original goal was “to support the growth and advancement of a democratic, independent labour movement in developing countries viewed as part of sustainable development strategies in a globalizing world.” The program has sought to promote a labour-oriented perspective on issues of labour standards and human rights, good governance and democratic development, social dimensions of structural adjustments, labour markets, adjustment and training in economic restructuring and social charters and free trade.

Since 2002, other Canadian affiliates have joined the LIDP. They include the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

There are a total of 32 projects under the current LIDP umbrella. They are implemented in at least 17 countries. Because some of the projects are regional in scope, there may be several more countries that benefit from the LIDP development interventions.

The CLC maintains an extensive network of bilateral relations with national labour organizations around the world. It is a member of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its regional organization in the Americas ORIT. The CLC is a member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In Canada, the CLC is a member of the board of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) and participates in its regional and thematic working groups. It also participates in other coalitions of development NGOs (ICAD, Common Frontiers, etc.) and engages the Canadian government on a wide range of foreign policy and international development issues.

CCIC: What are your main sectors of intervention on international issues?

Monique Charron: The LIDP actively promotes the ILO's Decent Work Agenda (DWA) that basically hinges around creating a better workplace environment for all people by promoting things such as labour rights, social protection and skills development, to name a few.

The program’s main sectors of intervention are equitable sustainable economic growth, focusing on improving the employment potential of individuals by providing awareness and training around sector specific job skills, training around labour processes (collective bargaining/negotiation skills) as well as health and safety practices in order to ensure improved working conditions. The program also engages in social dialogue within multi-stakeholder mechanisms to improve the legal/regulatory systems to ensure the strengthening of equitable economic foundations. We take into account the perspective of the poor and are consistent with international human rights standards.

 

CCIC: Could you share one success story from the field?

Monique Charron: The main purpose of the Supporting Unions and Good Governance in Nigeria project is to strengthen the capacity of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to defend unions and workers' rights in that country. An important component to the project is the promotion of good governance and the integration of gender in the work of the NLC and its affiliates.

Among other activities undertaken through the project is the establishment of annual school programs which provide specialized training on topics such as the political economy, organizing union members, gender equality and strengthening union leadership skills. An average of 300 workers attend the workshops (33% women participation).

As part of this project, the NLC also utilizes the "NLC at 30" process to consult unions and academics on their work over the last 30 years, with the goal of developing new strategies to influence government public policy and strengthen union structures. Also, the NLC uses this process to find ways to strengthen the ability of their union affiliates to effectively engage employers on improving the working standards of union members.

As a result of the project’s advocacy work, minimum wage increases have taken effect in several Nigerian states. As well, an act on electoral reform was adopted through NLC public debates and engagement with the Nigerian government.

Socks Instead of Gloves. Outsourcing and casualization are main drivers to unsafe conditions of work in the cane and sugar sector of Kenya. The Sugar Workers’ project (in collaboration with the Canadian Auto Workers’ Social Justice Fund) address the workers’ hardships on the sugar cane plantations. These workers often have to deal with toxic herbicides and demanding manual work without proper protective gear. Research and workshops on Occupational Health and Safety have been carried out for the workers in Chemelil and Nzoia, Kenya.

CLC Socks instead of gloves

A close look at the picture to the side shows that out of the 10 hands of five workers, only one (the third from left) wears what may remotely resemble a proper glove to handle the herbicide in the canisters. The rest are socks. (The two bare hands are from a delegate who showed the workers how to show their hands for the photos.)

Information available on the ‘Roundup’ product’s impact on the health of agricultural workers underlines that the product itself is much more toxic than glyphosate, the product’s main active ingredient, because Roundup actually combines glyphosate with other chemicals, which can lead to human poisoning.

The project was successful in creating a regional discussion network to positively influence the negotiations by the unions, providing Occupational Health and Safety training which gave workers confidence to deal with the workplace issues and increasing women’s participation as a result of the newly formed gender equality policy.

CCIC: What have been some of the challenges faced by your organization in the past few years?

Monique Charron: The ongoing impacts of the global economic crisis include very uneven recoveries in the labour markets with a rise in joblessness in most countries. For example, current statistics indicate that three quarters of workers in Sub-Saharan Africa are involved in very vulnerable employment and there is a growing number of discouraged youth as fewer and fewer see themselves in the formal working sector.
The most significant program challenge is to address the needs of the increasing informal sector by ensuring better working conditions and social protection for both the formal and informal sectors.

Alignment with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)’s pro-poor growth strategy has been an enormous challenge for the LIDP of late, in particular as the program attempts to position itself for future CIDA funding. While economic growth, as defined in the Sustainable Economic Growth (SEG) strategy, is a fundamental aspect in the poverty reduction program, it does not necessarily improve the lives of working people and communities immersed in situations of poverty. The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the LIDP program seeks to promote work opportunities that ensure economic and social advances that strengthen individuals, families and communities and not approaches that only help governments benefit from sustained periods of high economic growth.

CCIC: What makes your organization unique?

Monique Charron: Unions play an important role in poverty reduction through collective bargaining, an important means to distribute economic growth. Labour partners are key actors in the promotion of human rights and democracy both within the workplace and the broader society. Canadian unions and their labour partners have been part of the dialogue to protect workers’ rights and to analyze international trade agreements. Perhaps the most important role unions have to play in is public engagement on global issues, as well as workplace-based training and education programs that impact communities.

The LIDP has found an important and relevant niche on the sustainable economic development landscape. By broadly framing worker-related interventions within the “decent work” paradigm, the  program has maintained coherence with the conditions, needs and problems in many countries.  Projects have targeted sectors of the population that are most marginalized from the fruits of traditional and mainstream development initiatives. Strategic alliances that have developed have enabled LIDP projects to maintain their relevance within local settings and to increase their resilience under changing circumstances.

Over the years … “the LIDP has established a unique operational template for civil society to create small-scale models that address the profound challenges of equitable economic development in a globalized world within a holistic work and employment paradigm.”

CCIC: Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the value of CCIC and being a member?


Monique Charron: The CLC its affiliated Canadian unions have been extensively involved in the work of the CCIC over the years. Important to our participation in the organization is the assurance that decent work be included in the latest development discourse. CCIC has also been instrumental in assisting the CLC and its affiliates in staying abreast of the changing international and Canadian aid environments.


CCIC: CLC is quite active in the ATT (Arm Trade Treaty) coalition; can you tell us a few words about the ATT and why it is an important issue for CLC?


Monique Charron: The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is working with other Canadian organizations in support of the UN Arms Trade Treaty and has endorsed the Control Arms Campaign, a global civil society alliance calling for an international, legally binding agreement that will ease the suffering caused by irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons and munitions.

The CLC believes that Canadian companies involved in the production and export of arms-related products or services are uniquely positioned to contribute to ending these abuses by calling on the Canadian government to play a constructive role in the UN Arms Trade Treaty negotiations and to strengthen the prospects for a strong and comprehensive treaty.

The CLC focus on ATT is part of an overall emphasis to promote Corporate Accountability for Canadian companies involved in the arms trade. It also forms part of its program to promote corporate responsibility generally and to promote the use of existing tools to enable it, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

CCIC: How do you envision the future of your organization?

Monique Charron: Still focusing on the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, the future of the CLC international development program will look to strengthen its position in defending labour and human rights in developing countries. Taking into account the new development funding environment the LIDP will have to be segment components of the current program in order to secure accessible funds. The Canadian labour movement will continue to work together on issues of international solidarity.

 

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