As workplaces re-open and our members go back to work, the IAMAW continues to have discussions about challenges and needs of our members. IAMAW women from across the country gathered virtually for a second time to address specific issues and needs of women in their places of work, which range from manufacturing, aerospace, airports and air transportation, public services and healthcare.
A lively discussion took place, which touched on the need for a gender lens on health and safety, ending with setting priorities for IAMAW Women’s Committees. It was also an opportunity for the group to honour Heather Kelley as she prepares for retirement, and to thank her for her leadership, dedication, and continuing advocacy for worker’s and women’s rights. General Vice-President, Stan Pickthall and Chief-of-Staff Gord Falconer also joined the call, giving their good wishes and expressing their gratitude for Heather’s contributions to the organization.
Not at all surprising is that health and safety was flagged as a top concern across the country, indicating that workers are anxious and concerned about their health and safety at work. An adequate supply of PPE, measures by employers to ensure public health guidelines are in place, sanitizing protocols and violence in the workplace were pointed out as particular issues.
As new health and safety measures are implemented, it is clear that many workplaces are failing to take into consideration differential effects on women. A gender lens is especially important in temperature checks and thermal imaging, which is being used to screen potentially infected individuals. Both tests are geared towards measuring body temperature against a standardized threshold, however, there are cases where a person’s temperature would be above the threshold for reasons other than COVID-19, such as menopause, pregnancy, a non-COVID-19 related illness, certain medications, or teething in children.
We can proudly say that IAMAW sisters are addressing the ways in which women may be disproportionately disadvantaged by new health and safety measures. It is clear that joint health and safety committees are hard at work, but in workplaces with third-party regulators, ongoing lobbying and joint efforts with other unions are just as important.
Another issue raised, and one that precedes the pandemic, is availability of childcare. Lack of affordable and accessible childcare is a very real obstacle to women wanting to return to work. This is resulting in fewer women returning to work than men, which is not only problematic for households, and the economy but also the financial independence of women. Given new distancing rules, the number of children allowed to return will be reduced, so there will be a renewed debate about provision of childcare. This is an opportune time for the government to turn to the public sector to increase capacity and finally address the shortcomings in the system.
The discussion also uncovered a first for the IAMAW. One of our locals in Quebec successfully negotiated collective agreement language on domestic violence leave, marking a major victory for our members. This momentum will hopefully propel us to continue building on this and include the language in as many collective agreements as possible.
Last but not least, the group took time to honor Heather’s tireless work and contribution to the advancement of women’s issues within the union, and her tenacious efforts to fight for workers in her community and throughout Ontario. She was assured that the work she started would continue, and she reminded everyone the importance of standing up and speaking out by quoting Maya Angelou, “ every time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, without claiming, she is standing up for all women.”
Heather, we want to sincerely thank you for standing up for all of us, and we promise to continue your work and vision of building a women’s conference of 10,000 strong. While you may no longer be working for the union, we know your work for working people will never cease, and that you will continue being a resource and a pillar for women of the IAMAW.
Enjoy your retirement, and this new chapter in your life Sister. Your insight, knowledge, professionalism and generosity will be missed.
(Due to the pandemic, official celebrations for Heather Kelley’s retirement will be postponed until 2021)
IAMAW Canadian Research Director