TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 21, 2013) - The legacy of Canada's colonial history and current trends towards cuts to jobs and social programs continue to deliver a double blow to people of colour and other equity seeking groups in Canada. Racialized people across 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 address the vulnerability and marginality that is faced by racialized people every day as the expression of systemic racism in Canada.
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 on 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 austerity agenda is failing Ontario families, 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.
"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.
The OFL and its affiliates have targeted Ontario's growing inequality as the central focus of a campaign to challenge the "austerity" agenda and demand a People's Budget to make Ontario fair for everyone. However, on March 21 of this year, Ontario's labour movement is highlighting the degree to which inequality is compounded by systemic racism and discrimination.
"Our society cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds," said Nanda. "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 racial discrimination must be an integral part of Ontario's plan for economic recovery."
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.