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Championing Decent Work

Championing Decent Work

Decent Work, as championed by ONN and a growing number of its members, provides us with a rallying cry to push back against the fraying of our labour market. In committing to and pursuing decent work, individual nonprofits can make important contributions to countering malpractices of work in our society. This is our opportunity to walk the talk and ensure that the passionate mission-focused objectives of our sector are supported by strong labour practices and an enabling policy environment. Under a sector wide effort, we have the ability to mitigate labour force issues, such as the proliferation of insecure contracts, wages and benefits that can’t keep pace with the cost of living and the lack of pension supports for most of our nonprofit workforce.

But today’s labour-market practices have emerged from a set of circumstances that individual nonprofit organizations cannot address on their own. It is only through shared efforts that we will be able to make any significant reforms in the shape of work in our sector, and in our communities.

Toronto Neighbourhood Centres (TNC), the association of 32 multi-service neighbourhood centres that I support, has experienced some success in advancing decent work as a shared issue. TNC has articulated a “Decent Work Charter” which outlines aspirational commitments that our member organizations (including Boards!) can commit to and some practical actions that they can work on together and in partnership with ONN and other decent work champions.

Here’s a sample screenshot from the Charter: 

Charter screenshot

Over the past three months, I have made presentations to some of our member agencies’ boards of directors, requesting that their organizations formally adopt our TNC Decent Work Charter and test our draft Decent Work Checklist, to help refine this basic tool for exploring the strength and limitations of their current practices.

A sample screenshot from the Checklist:

Checklist screenshot

The four boards of directors (that I have made these requests of so far) have responded very positively. They have all signed on to the Charter commitments and enthusiastically embraced the decent work objectives. They have also expressed concerns about raising expectations that may be hard to fulfill as they juggle the demands of program delivery, while managing unpredictable and often inadequate funding.

They have agreed that they would benefit from shared efforts. And they want to know what other nonprofits are doing to navigate these challenges, in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

They have expressed enthusiasm for seeing whether we could leverage our network to find creative solutions, such as connecting part-time positions across organizations to create full-time opportunities or supporting standing employment pools that could sustain people between contracts – which all TNC members could draw upon for emergency and short-term assignments.

They also agree that shared efforts are needed to reform funding structures to better support decent work in our sector. For example, ensuring that cost of living increases are routinely integrated with ongoing government service-delivery contracts.

Through our partnership with ONN, we are asking that you reach out and commit to testing the draft Charter and Checklist in your organization and network (please connect with info@theonn.ca to receive copies). We hope that some of your networks may be able to adapt them to suit the realities of your regions and subsectors. We know that there are no “one size fits all” tools. So we hope you will adapt them, share your versions, pursue conversations with agency boards and staff, and share feedback via ONN. We aim to refine the Charter and Checklist and share them widely with the network at Nonprofit Driven 2016.

Finally, we all have a critical opportunity before us as our province reviews its labour legislation. This legislation, and the strength of our ability to enforce an updated labour code, will greatly determine the shape of our new labour market. An interim report from the government’s Changing Workplaces Review Advisors is due any day now. It will outline the principles and objectives that will inform the Advisors’ final report and will invite public comment and feedback during the three months after its release. Learn more about the update here.

It is critical for community members most affected by our outdated labour standards to be informing these changes, and nonprofit organizations can play an essential engagement and organizing role in this regard. For example, 15 and Fairness is one campaign that has organized around decent work and fair income. Such reforms are essential for the wellbeing of our communities, and also for our organizations. We will not have an easy time upholding decent work practices as a sector for strong, overall labour market conditions.

Together, with ONN’s support, we hope that you will join in these efforts to generate more and more momentum for advancing decent work across our province.


Call to Action: Test the Charter and Checklist in your organization and/or network!

Send info@theonn.ca a quick email. A simple subject line such as, “Send me the charter and checklist!” will do. We can’t wait to hear from you and source your feedback on how this charter and checklist could be adapted from your vantage point.

Do you have a decent work best practice or experience to share? Send them to info@theonn.ca.


Rob Howarth
Rob Howarth

For the past thirty years Rob has worked in and with a number of Toronto’s non-profit community organizations. He is currently the part-time Executive Director of the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres (TNC). His work with TNC supports the collective capacity building and policy efforts of an association of thirty-one multi-service community agencies located across the city. Rob is also a policy advisory committee member of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, and a founding board member of Canadians for Tax Fairness. Through this work and his varied community research, facilitation and mobilization activities Rob has helped to articulate the opportunities and challenges facing Toronto's non-profit community sector, and has advocated for related reforms. He is particularly interested in the various ways in which community members may be supported to play a central role in creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

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