Into a New Light: Respect and Dignity for All
“Into A New Light” is an innovative 70-page reader published by The Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association in Canada. The reader includes 17 short stories and follow-up questions, all relating to human rights, with certain stories focusing on health and human rights. Specific topics include: human rights in the workplace, protection of vulnerable groups, economic and social rights and human rights enforcement. The reader is an excellent resource for more advanced adult learners, but may be written at a level too difficult for ABE or other beginner courses.
For more information, or to obtain a copy of “Into A New Light: Respect and Dignity for All,” contact The Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association: Tel/Fax: (709) 754-0690, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their web site: www.stemnet.nf.ca/nlhra
by Kathleen Winter
Ron and Rita both worked in warehouses. They both lifted heavy boxes of canned goods all day. By the time Ron was 45 he could not work anymore. First his back gave out. Then he had a head injury. A crate of canned beans fell on him while he was on his break. Rita was not as strong as Ron, but her back was OK. A large stack of heavy boxes fell during her break too, but they hurt no one. Rita says government programs kept her workplace safe. Ron wants to know why the programs didn’t help him.
In many provinces, a worker has three basic rights when it comes to safety. She or he has the right to help make the workplace safe. She or he has the right to refuse unsafe work. If a job has ten or more workers, they also have a right to be part of a safety group that reports to the government any time the job does not seem safe. This group is called an Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
Both Rita and Ron knew their jobs had committees. But Rita knew her job was dangerous. She wanted to take care of herself from her first day. She knew lifting boxes can hurt your back. She asked her safety committee how to prevent this. At first they told her they did not know. She asked them to please find out. She said it was important. So they did find out. They got booklets from the government. The booklets told how to lift boxes without getting hurt. Every worker got a booklet. Some of them thanked Rita for asking for the booklets.
Rita also noticed a dangerous thing on the job. The site was a big open warehouse with two levels. There were no guardrails on the top level. Boxes could fall. They could fall on workers, especially in the area where workers took their break. Rita asked her boss to put up guardrails. He said it would take too much time, space and money. He said it wasn’t necessary.
Rita asked the other workers how they felt. Some said it didn’t matter. Rita said, “How would you like it if a fifty-pound crate of crushed pineapple fell on your head from thirty feet up?” A few agreed with her. Together they told the boss they refused to work on the lower floor until he put guardrails up. They told him the safety committee could report the problem to the government. He put guardrails up that week. A stack of crates fell a few days later, but the rails kept them from falling to the lower floor.
There were no booklets on back safety at Ron’s job site. Nobody asked for any, even though many workers had bad backs. Ron felt he was strong enough to lift boxes without a booklet telling him what to do. He hurt his back because he never did learn to lift the boxes safely.
At Ron’s warehouse crates fell all the time. It was easy to knock them over because they were stacked very high. One worker said maybe the stacks were too high. The other workers made fun of him for being afraid. A worker on the safety committee wondered if he should do something. But he figured it wasn’t serious. The guys were just joking around. When Ron was injured by a falling crate, the workers sent him funny cards to cheer him up. They did not realize Ron’s brain would never understand jokes again.
Ron’s job looked the same as Rita’s, but Rita came out of hers a lot better off. Some people say Ron wasn’t as lucky as Rita. But maybe lucky wouldn’t be the right word.
Questions for Discussion
- Was Rita right to worry about hurting her back on the job?
- Why do you think Ron wasn’t worried about being injured at his job?
- Why does the writer say that “luck” doesn’t really explain the different outcomes in Ron and Rita’s stories
by Kathryn Welbourn
I had a baby. My Ul ran out and then the man I had been living with for six years left me and the province. Now the welfare people own me and it seems they always will.
My baby and I lived without money for a month. I was too afraid and ashamed to go on welfare. But my parents said there was nothing else I could do.
I was right to be afraid. The welfare people steal your privacy. They make you fill out forms in the hall. Everyone who walks by knows what you are doing. You have to give them your bank account number. You have to get notes from people you have worked for. They can see your taxes – everything. After they have looked into every comer of your life they take out their little calculators and decide how much money you need to live.
Welfare workers act like you are bothering them. They sigh a lot. They stare off into space. They roll their eyes at the things you say. Only once did a worker treat me like a client. He was in a wheelchair, which is probably why he was so kind and so professional. He had had trouble in his life, too. He told me it was my right to get welfare for myself and my baby. I only saw him once. He was laid off.
Welfare gives you just enough money so you can choose between feeding yourself or your child. My parents buy my daughter her shoes and clothes. If they didn’t she wouldn’t have any because after I pay the rent and buy diapers and the bit of food, the money is gone.
People on welfare are supposed to depend on others for everything. You are not supposed to have a car. I know, because I asked if welfare could help me get a car seat for my daughter and they said no. Welfare people are supposed to take taxis.
It’s not a good idea to work if you are on welfare. I got a six-week contract. I hoped I was finished with welfare. I went to their office and gave them their last welfare check back. They were amazed that I didn’t try to find a way to keep the money. “You’ll be back,” they said.
They were right. My contract wasn’t renewed. When I went back I owed the welfare department money. I was supposed to save the extra I made at my job in case I had to go on welfare again.
Welfare workers won’t tell you what they can do for you. You have to beg. I went in and cried when I needed a bed for my daughter. They just let me go on and on about why she needed a bed. I found out later I should have been given a bed right away. Their job seems to be to give you as little as possible. And to make you feel bad about everything you do get.
Only people who have been on welfare for a long time know how it all works. A lot of people think welfare people cheat. Some probably do, but I don’t blame them.
If you stay on welfare for more than a year or two you’re screwed. Everything you get on welfare is the cheapest possible – like the bed for my daughter. It’s already falling apart. And everything you buy yourself is the cheapest possible because that’s all the money you have. People on welfare can get really fat from eating cheap food all the time. People on welfare are not allowed to have fillings in their teeth. Welfare only pays to have teeth pulled. I couldn’t even afford a haircut while I was on welfare. So after a year or two, even if you got a job interview, you’d have to go there in a taxi with a bad haircut, a front tooth missing, cheap clothing and run-down shoes. Who would hire you then? Who would even want to know you then? Everything you had would be falling apart, including yourself.
I was lucky. I got a good job again doing the work I went to college for — before it was too late. My parents gave me enough money to live between my last welfare cheque and my first paycheque. I don’t make a lot of money, but a little more than I did on welfare.
I should be free of them now. But your welfare records follow you around. Everyone feels like they can treat you with contempt. No one takes you seriously. When I went to court for custody of my daughter, the clerk looked my papers over and tossed them to her assistant.
“Oh, it’s another one of those social services cases,” she said. She didn’t even look at me.
Questions for Discussion
- Do you think people who get welfare should complain about the way they are treated?
- The woman in this story says the welfare people own her. What do you think?