Under the theme of "Moving Canada, Connecting the world," members from the air, marine, rail, and road sectors came together at the Unifor Transportation Conference, held June 9-11 at the union’s Family Education Centre in Port Elgin.
“Transport Workers are vital to economic activity in this country and all over the world,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President. “Without transport workers, nothing moves! Our place in the supply chain gives us incredible power to demand improvements and sustainability for the future of the sector. I know this, and I want all of Canada to know this.”
The inspiring and transformative gathering kicked off with opening remarks from Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). Cotton shared his expertise and global perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing transportation workers. His address emphasized the importance of international solidarity and collaboration in advocating for workers' rights and improving conditions in the transportation sector.
“Over the course of the conference, delegates engaged in dynamic discussions, shared valuable insights, and strategized on ways to champion change and solidarity within the industry,” said Len Poirier, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer. “Members had the opportunity to connect with fellow transportation workers from different parts of the country, creating a support network that will extend beyond the conference.”
Delegates and speakers at the conference addressed the multifaceted challenges facing the industry, from privatization and health and safety concerns to automation, new technology, surveillance, and the effects of climate change, the conference provided delegates an opportunity to have in-depth discussions and develop strategies to strengthen workers rights in the transportation sector.
A crucial topic that emerged at the conference was the significance of the global supply chain and the need to prioritize unionized manufacturing in Canada for both domestic and international transportation. Participants recognized the vulnerabilities and challenges associated with a heavily reliant global supply chain, such as job insecurity and economic instability.
“By advocating for local manufacturing, Canada can establish resilient and sustainable transportation networks while ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and quality products. This approach not only strengthens Canada's transportation industry but also sets a positive example globally, promoting equitable and worker-centered practices in the international supply chain,” said Payne.
Automation and the impact of new technologies on the workforce were also hot topics. Attendees explored ways to adapt to the changing landscape and foster a just transition that values the skills and livelihoods of transportation workers. The conference served as a platform for examining the potential benefits and challenges brought about by automation and finding ways to harness its potential while safeguarding workers' interests.
Health and safety was discussed during the conference, as participants emphasized the importance of ensuring the well-being of transportation workers. Best practices were shared, and the need for comprehensive policies that prioritize protection of workers.
As the conference concluded, delegates expressed their commitment to transforming the transportation industry. They pledged to carry forward the insights, ideas, and strategies developed during the conference, and to actively pursue bargaining and policy solutions that will strengthen the industry, reduce exploitation, and improve the wages and working conditions of transportation workers.