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70 years of fighting for human rights

"Unions take on many fights that go beyond equality in the workplace. LGLBTQ2S rights, racialized workers' rights, women's rights, these are all movements we are a part of in order to eliminate discrimination and abuse." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (08 Dec. 2017) — This year will mark the 70th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 10 will mark the kick-off of a year-long reflection of the importance of the Declaration, and the struggle against human rights violations around the world. 

Labour rights are human rights

"The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has always held the belief that labour rights are human rights. It's a core value that inspires our work every day," says Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "We are incredibly proud of our efforts here at home, and on the international level, working to ensure the labour movement is advancing the fight to protect and enhance human rights for all."

"Our Unions Matter campaign is designed to promote the good work unions do, not only for members, but for society in general," Brown continued. "Unions take on many fights that go beyond equality in the workplace. LGLBTQ2S rights, racialized workers rights', women's rights, these are all movements we are a part of in order to eliminate discrimination and abuse."

In Canada, NUPGE has been at the forefront of the fight to have collective bargaining and union membership viewed as a human right. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration recognizes the right to join a union and bargain collectively as a basic human right and a cornerstone of democracy. Over the last decade, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on several occasions that labour rights are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadian workers have the constitutional rights under the Charter to join a union of their own choosing, participate in collective bargaining and to take strike action. One of the important factors that guided our chief justices was the international law established through the 2 international human rights treaties to which Canada is a signatory. 

The rights instilled in our Charter were greatly influenced by the UN's Declaration. 

Canada still has a ways to go 

Most recently, in Canada, we have seen apologies from the federal government for its previous acts of discrimination and abuse. Residential schools, discriminatory policies against First Nations people, the Chinense head tax and exclusion act, the firings and prosecution of LGLBTQ2S members of the public service and military, the barring of entry into Canada of most of the passengers of the Komagata Maru in 1914, the locking up of Japanese Canadians in internment camps — these are all horrible tragedies of our past. 

"While the governments offer their words of apology, we want to see a change in actions," says Brown. "There are more tragedies happening every day: people being locked up in solitary confinement, housing people with mental health problems in jails, detaining refugees in immigration camps, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, injured members of the military returning home with PTSD and not enough support to help them. The list can go on." 

"We will continue to fight on behalf of these people who deserve to have their human rights protected," said Brown. "Discriminatory laws, policies and culture need to be torn down if we are ever to right the wrongs in our country, and around the world."

History of the Declaration of Human Rights

Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and states’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been upheld and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity. 

Canada takes pride in the development of the Declaration, as the document’s first draft was written by a Canadian. John Peters Humphrey, a native of New Brunswick, was appointed as the first director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Secretariat. In 1946, one of Humphrey's first tasks was to prepare the first draft of the Universal Declaration.