Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Niki Najm-Abadi: Fighting for Worker Justice, Building Worker Power

Saturday, July 29, 2023, 1 – 3 PM PDT

Centre A (Zoom)

Register HERE 

In the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a wave of worker-led organizing efforts: from Starbucks and Amazon union drives, to winning Paid Sick Days in BC, to the upcoming summer of strikes across Turtle Island. In this discussion, Niki will focus on the importance of grassroots labour organizing in the fight against racist austerity measures and neoliberalism. How do these efforts pave the road to building a just future for all, and what are some examples around us that demonstrate the importance of building a strong worker-led labour movement in all of our interconnecting fights for justice?

Austerity, Employment Rights Exemptions, and the Codification of the Wage Gap

The BC Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum standards of legal protection for workers in the province. It lays out requirements such as the minimum wage, statutory holidays, paid sick leave, and overtime pay. The majority of low-wage and non-unionized workers in BC are covered by the Act. Even still, certain designations of workers are exempt from these rights – farm workers, certain care workers, and domestic workers are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime pay. 

These exemptions codify racism and sexism by enshrining gendered and racialized wage gaps and labour precarity in law – it is worth remembering that the majority of such workers are racialized, migrant women. These jobs are often precarious, low-wage, and rampant with abuse. 

There are also significant structural barriers for workers who do stand up for their rights – from fear of retaliation, long wait times, language barriers, and a violation of their procedural rights at the Employment Standards Branch. This is largely due to budget cuts and austerity over the last 20 years, beginning in 2001 with the BC Liberal Government. 

Over the next 10 years following,  the BC Liberal Government would go on to reduce the Employment Standards Branch by 57%, close 8 regional offices, and reduce enforcement staff by 51%. Through the introduction of a “self help” step for employees to submit, the BC Liberals also created significant administrative barriers to the filing of complaints by workers, marked by a 67% drop in worker complaints[1].

It is estimated that between 2013 and 2017, the Branch failed to collect $14.9 million in stolen wages and that out of 2,109 determinations filed in court, only succeeded in collecting wages in 662 cases.

Niki Najm-Abadi (she/her) is a migrant settler of Iranian descent on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Her fight for worker justice began by way of student organizing, anti-violence work, and her own participation in a union-drive. She is a UBC graduate and currently works as an organizer and legal advocate at the Worker Solidarity Network.

Accessibility: The gallery is wheelchair and walker accessible. If you have specific accessibility needs, please contact us at (604) 683-8326 or [email protected]. As the workshop will take place in the format of a Zoom Meeting, audio transcripts will be available upon request.

Centre A is situated on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. We honour, respect, and give thanks to our hosts.