Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

March 20, 2015 13:54 ET

Poverty and Precarious Work Propel Ontario's Racial Divide

OFL Statement on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination - March 21, 2015

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - March 20, 2015) - Ontario remains a wealthy province inflicted with the disease of poverty, but the effects of this crisis of inequality are not evenly felt across society. Racialized people in Canada – from temporary foreign workers to new immigrants to Canada's First Peoples – earn substantially less, face higher rates of violence, are more likely to live in poverty, and are vastly over-represented in Canada's growing precarious workforce. To mark March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Ontario Federation of Labour is calling for action to eliminate the poverty and employment precarity that is faced by racialized people every day as the expression of systemic racism in Canada. Doing so requires meaningful action to improve social programs, increase the minimum wage, raise employment standards and make it easier for workers to join a union.

Recent reports demonstrate an alarming trend in Ontario and across Canada: poverty, precariousness and inequality are on the rise and their impact is being most severely felt by workers of colour, their families and their communities. Racialized workers continue to earn only $0.81 for every dollar earned by their non-racialized counterparts and these wages drop dramatically to $0.46 for Aboriginal workers. As a result, racialized families are two to four times as likely to live below the low-income cut-off and over 18 percent of Aboriginal Ontarians are living in poverty. In some racialized communities, as many as one in two children are impoverished.

"The poverty crisis is disgraceful in a wealthy province like Ontario, but it is also exacerbating Ontario's shameful racial divide," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "Vulnerable families that are already struggling in this economy are the most victimized by cuts to public services. Alarming rates of violence, addiction and suicide are, simply put, the grim metrics of systemic racism."

The startling effects of poverty and inequality are perhaps most starkly exposed in the rise in youth violence, the exploitation of migrant workers and the squalid conditions that are endemic to many of Canada's Aboriginal communities. However, Ontario's growing inequality is more than just poverty. Precarious jobs without fair wages, benefits, job security or union representation now comprise nearly half of all jobs in Ontario and disproportionately impact racialized people and new immigrants who can spend decades in vulnerable jobs. Yet, out of these desperate circumstances, inspiring courage and tenacity has led to an upsurge in grass roots activism within each of these communities that has demanded social and economic change.

On April 29, 2015 the Federation will join with the African Canadian community organizations for a second African Canadian Summit to address the root cause of youth violence. Joining African Canadian community leaders will be key government officials, representatives of major public institutions, labour leaders, service providers and other stakeholders. The focus of the summit will address the issues of marginalization and social exclusion that have contributed to the current crisis among African Canadian youth, and in particular, the disproportionate level of gun violence.

"Across Canada, new movements of racialized people and their allies have succeeded in raising global consciousness through education, cultural resurgence, and democratic political activism," said OFL Executive Vice-President Irwin Nanda. "From mothers and fathers in Toronto's Black community, to Idle No More activists in Kingston and migrant worker advocates in Windsor, communities of colour are taking action and their call for respect, equality and justice can no longer be ignored."

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21st. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws." The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day in 1966 and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Racism and discrimination can be found in our treatment of Aboriginal peoples – the long stonewalling of land claims which take generations to settle; our failure to find solutions to the grinding poverty on reservations, the high suicide rates among Aboriginal teens and in the refusal to hold a commission of inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

"Our society cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds," said Ryan. "Poverty and precariousness continue to plague Ontario's racialized communities and drive a wedge between the rich and the rest of us. The elimination of poverty and the racial discrimination that too often underpins it must be an integral part of Ontario's plan for economic recovery."

The Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Common Front have joined forces to host an Anti-Poverty Assembly in Toronto on April 17 and 18 to draft and launch a campaign to challenge poverty in all of its manifestations. For more information, visit http://weareontario.ca/index.php/antipovertyassembly/.

The OFL will also be intervening in the province's newly initiated review of labour law and employment standards to advocate for changes that will lift workers out of poverty through better wages, improved protections and easier access to union representation.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.

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