Trade unions have always been a grey area for me, sort of like cricket. You think you understand the game and then suddenly it is all very confusing. My job in Toronto is the first unionised position I have ever held, and so I was very excited about accompanying my husband, Arra Aravindhan, Director, Small Branches to the CMG convention in Calgary in April. Having worked as a journalist in South Asia for more than six years, I really appreciated what I observed: an organisation that works to ensure that every person employed by a media organisation is treated in a fair and just manner by their respective employers.
Journalists have a certain amount of power, with the ability to make or break people, organisations or governments if they put their minds to it. And here they were, working to better themselves! Everyone I met was dedicated and driven to accomplish tasks that will in the long run be beneficial to every employee. It was even more encouraging that the Guild includes more than just journalists; there were folks from every department within a media organisation. I was inspired! And for a fleeting moment, I wanted to be back at a newsroom/editorial chasing the next big story.
There are organisations around the world that look out for journalists, but that is all they do, look out for them. It is rare that someone takes up the issue of money and benefits with management. Journalists in most parts of the world are fighting for freedom of the press and, if they manage to win that, then they have to struggle to keep their jobs. In Calgary, I saw a group of fortunate people able to express themselves and who have a union to negotiate a collective agreement that protects them. The only thing these people seem to have to do is to speak up and make their voice heard. Not too hard a task for journalists, is it?
On that note I would like to thank the Canadian Media Guild for giving me the opportunity to observe a very enthusiastic gathering of inspirational individuals. I hope you never lose the spirit to work towards continually improving the working conditions for all media folks.
Shantha Karthigesu is a member of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and works at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto.