Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

October 18, 2010 11:30 ET

OFL Statement on Persons Day, Oct. 18, 2010

Time to redouble efforts to achieve social and economic equality

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 18, 2010) - Today marks the 81st anniversary of Canada's "Persons Case" that recognized women as persons under the law. Finally, after being barred from full participation in public life, the doors were open to many – but not all women; decades would pass before Aboriginal, many immigrant and other marginalized women would be granted the same legal rights and privileges.

The Persons Case was a legal and historic milestone in Canada and a hard-won battle. Let's always remember the Supreme Court of Canada actually ruled against women as persons and that it took an appeal to the British Privy Council to overturn the court's decision: the council declared the exclusion of women from public office was "a relic of days more barbarous than ours."

These relics and resistance to equality rights still plague our society. Violence against women and a much-lower economic status are easily solvable but once again, governments and lawmakers continue to block progress.

For over a century, women have used organizing into a union as a vehicle to pull themselves out of low wage ghettos, increase their pay and improve their standard of living, but today's provincial labour laws make access to a union much more difficult.

The Mike Harris Conservative government disliked unions and used its power to create as many barriers as possible to workers' attempts to organize. One of its most appalling acts was to abolish the card certification process that had been in place since the 1950s. In addition to the requirement for workers to sign a card as evidence they wish to join a union, these same workers became saddled with one more hurdle – that of having to vote, even if 100% of them signed the cards. A vote sounds democratic but under the circumstances becomes intimidating, rather than liberating. Under the watchful eye of the employer, those aspiring to union membership must now show up to vote. Imagine the power this gives to all-powerful employers to coerce, intimidate and effectively stop unionization in their workplace.

Upon his election, Premier Dalton McGuinty committed to improving labour relations in Ontario and to correct the imbalance created by the Mike Harris government's anti-worker, anti-union policies. In 2004, his government announced changes to the Labour Relations Act to restore majority card certification, but only in the construction sector – predominately male. While we applauded the government for its initiative, we pointed out that this was just one step in what had to be accomplished.

A women's signature is honoured and legally binding on a rental agreement, credit card or loan documents. But the Harris legislation that is still in place proscribes another route for women's unionization: it requires women's signatures to be "tested" as though we were back in the 19th century before women were legally declared persons.

The upshot of this is that primarily Aboriginal, immigrant and other marginalized women – the ones who need the protection of a union the most, are the ones who are having the toughest time.

Union members make 26% higher wages than non-union workers. For full-time union members, wages are 19% higher than non-union and for part-time union workers, wages are 66% greater than non-union.

Today let's remember that nothing has been "given" to women and that our mothers and grandmothers fought hard through generations to achieve the gains that have been made. Clearly, it's time to redouble our efforts to ensure that social and economic equality truly become a reality. Our mothers, sisters and daughters deserve nothing less.

Contact Information

  • Ontario Federation of Labour
    Sid Ryan
    416.209.0066 (mobile)
    Ontario Federation of Labour
    Marie Kelly
    647.453.7651 (mobile)