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We all witnessed the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. But in case you thought Canada was immune, did you know that 14% of all income in Canada is now received by the top 1%? This is up from the 1980s, when the top 1% earned only 8% of the income. Currently, the bottom 50% together own less than 6% of all the wealth.

This income gap is compounded by the other gaps in the workplace: the gender gap, youth unemployment, and the continued economic marginalization of minority communities.

This translates into less opportunity and social mobility for many employees, and this is happening amidst cuts throughout government to social services. These persistent and growing gaps will have an effect on workers and workplaces across Canada.

These issues will have a particular effect in unionized workplaces, where the working conditions are set by collective agreements. As collective agreements come up for re-negotiation, this economic reality will be an underlying factor that affects a large number of bargaining issues, not only pay. For example, if cuts to social services continue, the benefits packages offered by employers will become ever-more important as many families will rely on these to provide essential services.

Recent Canadian governments have enabled the growth of gaps through cuts to social services, the weakening of unions, and the introduction of policies that hurt Canadian workers. Unions will have to be live to these issues, and continue their role at the forefront pushing for fair wages, a fair tax regime, and the expansion of investments in our public services.

For further information, we invite you to read the report, Haves and Have-Nots: Deep and Persistent Wealth Inequality in Canada, commissioned by the Broadbent Institute.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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