Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

March 21, 2011 06:00 ET

Ontario Federation of Labour: Working for Justice, Working for Change

OFL Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, 2011

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 21, 2011) - Workers across Ontario are uniting together to challenge racial prejudice and discrimination in their workplaces and in their communities. March 21, 2011 marks the 45th anniversary of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is working to challenge racism in the workplace … and in the classroom.

Established six years after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which South African police opened fire and killed 69 people peacefully protesting apartheid "pass laws", the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has become a focal point for the struggle for equality and human rights. Every year, events and activities are organized around the world to encourage people and governments to help challenge racial discrimination and to remember its negative consequences.

As communities of colour continue to grow in Canada at five times the rate of the general population, racialized people remain three times more likely to live in poverty, while earning 15 per cent less on average than non-racialized workers. In addition, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal continues to hear cases in which racialized workers are subjected to overt acts of racism in their workplaces. As of June 15, 2010, all employers will be required to have in place an Occupational Health and Safety anti-harassment policy. Yet much more remains to be done.

"The shameful effects of racism continue to manifest themselves in Ontario workplaces and in the earnings of racialized workers. Supporting economic justice in Ontario means supporting public services and good jobs, but we also need tougher rules, with stiffer penalties, to send a clear message to employers that racism has no place in the workplace," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "It is the responsibility of everyone, not just racialized workers, to challenge racism in all of its forms and to fight for equality and human rights."

To give voice to this issue, the Ontario Federation of Labour will be hosting the first ever Workers of Colour Assembly in Toronto on March 25 and 26, 2011, in collaboration with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Latin American Trade Unionists and the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance. The forum will give participants the opportunity to discuss barriers to equality, including access to good jobs, affordable housing, pensions and education. It will focus on developing short and long-term strategies for challenging legislators, employers, communities and individuals to become allies in the struggle for racial justice.

While fair wages and harassment-free workplaces continue to top the labour movement's bargaining agenda, Ontario workers are also active in fighting to end racism in Ontario's educational system. Last year's Final Report of the Task Force on Campus Racism, hosted by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario with participation from the Ontario Federation of Labour, found that individual and systemic racism continue to affect college and university students in the classroom, in campus life, and in institutional policies. Other research of the CFS demonstrates that user fees, like tuition fees, have a disproportionately negative effect upon racialized people, who are statistically more likely to earn less before and after graduation.

However, the racial barriers to education start much earlier than college or university. In Canada's most impoverished communities, which continue to be predominantly racialized, success in primary and secondary education is thwarted by inadequate resources. In First Nations communities, the crisis is the most stark. Sometimes without heated rooms, in moldy portables, without libraries and educational resources, First Nations children continue to be neglected and underfunded by the federal government. This year, the Ontario Federation of Labour will be joining community groups and Aboriginal and First Nations advocates in the Shannen's Dream campaign to promote the right to education for First Nations children.

"Parents across the country should be outraged by the learning conditions in so many First Nations communities. Without proper classrooms, libraries and the most basic educational facilities, children cannot succeed at learning," said Terry Downey, OFL Executive Vice-President. "No parent would accept these conditions for their own children, so we need to speak out to ensure the right of every child to a quality education is a reality, not a dream."

On March 21, Ontario workers will be reflecting not just on their accomplishments, but on the work that is still required to achieve real economic and social equity in Canada. Racism is a destructive force that undermines the solidarity that is the pillar of any union's strength. As trade unionists committed to social change, the Ontario Federation of Labour will continue to bring workers together to challenge all of the barriers to a just and equitable society – within the workplace and the community.

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