As we go about our daily lives, the majority of us, I suspect, share a hierarchy of concerns ranging in priority from the health and well-being of our loved ones, to ourselves, and to our fellow humans. It is probably the latter than many of us pay only lip service to, not necessarily just because we may not feel a real emotional connection to strangers, but also because we are often perplexed as to how we can have a meaningful impact on the lives of those who may be less fortunate. True, as a nation we tend to give generously to causes with our wallets, perhaps more aware than other countries, thanks to our values of collectivism over individualism, of our interconnectedness.
But sometimes real help can only be possible after a lengthy time spent becoming aware of and researching issues and policy choices that we entrust to our government representatives who, at least in theory, represent us.
I was prompted to think about these things today as I read a thought-provoking piece by The Star's Carol Goar entitled Ontario neglecting its most vulnerable workers.
Her first two paragraphs were provocative:
Roughly 1.7 million workers in the province — 1 out of 5 — have little or no protection from bosses who pay them less than the minimum wage, compel them to work on statutory holidays without overtime and don’t allow them time off for illness, a family emergency or the death of a loved one.
Some of these inhumane practices happen within the bounds of Ontario’s gap-ridden Employment Standards Act. Some happen illegally because the rules are so poorly enforced.
She goes on to discuss some of the improvements made in 2009 under Dalton McGuinty's poverty reduction strategy, improvements that were undermined a year later by the same government's passage of the “Open for Business Act” that heightened the risk of reprisals if exploited workers sought redress.
There is a glimmer of hope, reports Goar:
Fortunately there is a new thrust for reform. The Law Commission of Ontario has just released the first draft of a report entitled Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work. It is a response to the plight of the lowest paid, least protected members of the labour force — typically immigrants, ethno-racial minorities and single parents — and to employment lawyers who lack the tools to help them.
Unfortunately, as she also reports, Dalton McGuinty's government will be under no obligation to accept the suggested reforms that the report addresses.
Which is why an informed citizenry, aware of the injustices and involved enough to try to exert some influence on the government, is paramount. To be sure, such a hope may be very idealistic, but I cannot help but ask what other avenues are there in a democracy such as ours?