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Review of 2015 International Youth Day Conference

We the North
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The Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYC) recently hosted Invest in Your Future, OPSEU’s Eighth Annual International Youth Day Conference (IYD). It was held August 12-14, 2015, at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Toronto. In direct response to the success of last year’s event, IYD was expanded to a two-and-a-half-day event. The PYC welcomed over 120 enthusiastic young workers from across the province. Guest delegates from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union were also invited.

The conference opening was abuzz with excitement, and the atmosphere was electric. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas opened the gathering of energetic and committed young workers, for many of whom the conference was their first-ever OPSEU function. Thomas stressed the importance of getting involved, recognizing that the people in the room represented the future of the labour movement – and that one of them could be an eventual president of OPSEU.

The event encouraged participants to develop a stronger connection to their union and was organized to help build and strengthen the leadership potential of young workers. It also addressed a number of specific objectives:

  • recognizing that the future of OPSEU and the labour movement depends on the strength of its young people
  • ensuring that OPSEU has actively engaged young worker members and empowering them in its ongoing fight for equity and fairness
  • equipping youth with the necessary union tools and resources to become stronger activists in their workplaces, locals and communities
  • informing young workers about their rights and responsibilities around workplace health and safety hazards and precarious employment, which disproportionately impact young workers

IYD 2015 built on last year’s themes, and the expanded workshops were designed to address those needs. Conference participants took part in sessions that focused on public speaking, grievance handling, mental health in the workplace, and the importance of time management.

The conference also welcomed four guest speakers:

  • Farley Flex, a motivational speaker best known as a judge on Canadian Idol, Canada’s most-watched television show ever, expressed his passion for community involvement, complemented by his work to support disadvantaged youth. Flex was an inspirational addition to the program.
  • Nora Loreto, who once again provided this year’s keynote address, focused on the issue of precarious employment and its impact on young workers.
  • John MacDonald, a union activist with UNIFOR, stressed the importance of health and safety in the workplace through a series of leafletting initiatives.
  • Jeff Moat, President of Partners for Mental Health, talked about why bringing issues of mental health to the forefront of discussions would inevitably provoke overall social change.

The program also included presentations from a number of OPSEU units, including the Resource Centre, Organizing, Negotiations, Equity, Health and Safety, Contract Enforcement, Pensions and Benefits, and Local Services. To the many new young worker activists in attendance, this was an invaluable introduction to the internal workings of OPSEU and how it provides services to its membership.

This year also marked the launch of OPSEU’s Don’t Vote campaign, in which the PYC has taken on a vital leadership role. It is a non-partisan campaign aimed at engaging young workers in the political process. The overall tone was good-natured sarcasm, edginess and fun. OPSEU young workers took to the streets during the conference to talk to Torontonians from all walks of life about the importance of casting a ballot at the upcoming federal election.

As the excitement from this conference winds down, participants have returned energized to their communities and locals. Many have made the commitment to become more involved, with aspirations of becoming a unit steward and/or being elected to their local executive and/or bargaining team.

The PYC would like to thank the many OPSEU advocates who demonstrated their commitment to young worker rights by participating in the event. They would also like to extend a warm thank-you to all of the guests, whose expertise and experience added a personal touch to the event, as well as to Data on the Spot for supplying the e-polling technology.  Following the success of the recent Human Rights (2014) and Francophone (2015) conferences, the use of electronic polling was also incorporated into this event. It was an innovative and easy way of generating instant feedback from the participants. Lastly, a special thank-you goes out to the staff from OPSEU’s Equity Unit, Training and Development Unit, and Communications Division – consummate professionals whose guidance, talent and hard work greatly contributed to the success of the conference. See you in 2016!