Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

May 06, 2013 05:00 ET

Workers' Rights Should Know No Borders

OFL Statement for South Asian Heritage Month - May 2013

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 6, 2013) - Across Ontario, workers are joining the South Asian community in recognizing May as South Asian Heritage Month. However, this year's celebrations are dampened by news of the April 24 collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory that killed as many as 500 workers and injured 2,500 more. One hundred and fifty workers remain missing and are feared dead beneath the rubble. This tragedy touches the lives of thousands of Bangladeshi Canadians who have friends and family in the Dhaka region and is a stark reminder of the human cost of the cheap textiles and merchandise in Canadian marketplaces.

"Canadian workers are proud of the contributions that the hundreds of thousands of South Asian workers have made to our country and our labour movement, but today we are reminded of our responsibility to defend the rights and lives of workers around the world," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "Canada may rely on international imports, but must do so while striving to export workers' rights, decent wages and safe working conditions. Canadians cannot profit from the exploitation of workers at home or abroad."

In Canada, South Asians represent one quarter of the racialized workforce and four percent of the total workforce, making them the country's largest racialized group. Most South Asian workers live and work in Ontario and British Columbia (and more specifically, Toronto and Vancouver, and surrounding areas). While most South Asian workers in Canada are well-educated, they are under-represented in managerial and skilled occupations and over-represented in semi-skilled and low-skilled occupations. These trends are based on the 2006 Census - and given the dramatic shifts in the economy since then, it is likely that they have been exacerbated.

"South Asians have a long history in Canada and our accomplishments are a vital part of Canadian history," said OFL Executive Vice President Irwin Nanda, the OFL's first Executive Officer of South Asian descent. "South Asian workers are active in the membership of unions across the country and, increasingly, we are finding our place in the leadership as well."

Since receiving proclamation in December 2001, South Asian Heritage Month has celebrated the presence and heritage of people with roots in the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan. While celebrations often highlight South Asian history, arts, heritage and culture, it is also important to recognize the contributions of South Asian workers to Canada's economy and society.

South Asian immigrants began arriving in Ontario at the start of the 20th Century. Originally working primarily in the sawmill industry, South Asian immigrants settled in various parts of the province. For many South Asians, the month of May has been a time of celebration and commemoration of their arrival from the Indian subcontinent to the Americas beginning on May 5, 1838. However, many other South Asians have travelled to Ontario from such places as Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, United Kingdom, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Today, a diverse South Asian population makes up a significant proportion of Ontario's population and proudly draws upon their heritage and traditions to contribute to many aspects of culture, commerce and public service across the province.

"Many South Asian people in Canada have faced harassment and discrimination in the workplace and in society. We have responded by becoming active in challenging racism in all of its forms and making Canada a better place for everyone to live and work," said Nanda. "We are proud to have the trade union movement joining with community partners to acknowledge the incredible activism being undertaken every day by South Asian Canadians in our communities and our unions."

The OFL and the Ontario Common Front will be recognizing South Asian Community Activism on June 1st with an awards gala at the Sagan Banquet Hall in Brampton. For sponsorship, tickets or more information, visit www.weareontario.ca/index.php/south-asian-awards-2013.

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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