March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day marks the anniversary of a bloody massacre that took place in 1960, when 69 Black demonstrators were killed and 180 wounded in Sharpeville, South Africa, as they protested apartheid pass laws. These laws restricted the ability of Black South Africans to move freely in the country and to organize unions.

CUPE Ontario is committed to fighting racism and all forms of oppression, and is encouraging all members to take a moment on this day to reflect on racial inequality that still exists in our workplaces and our communities.

Canada has a long history of racism and colonialism, and its effects continue for members of racialized and Aboriginal communities.

In 2014, CUPE conducted the first-ever comprehensive survey of our membership to get a better understanding of our union’s demographics and diversity, as well as the degree to which members face precarious work. It revealed that racialized workers are more likely to be in precarious employment situations than non-racialized workers. Racialized workers are also twice as likely to have casual work, and are less likely to have employment benefits, workplace pensions or paid sick days.

Racialized workers continue to face systemic barriers that contribute to a significant wage gap when compared to non-racialized workers in the Canadian labour market. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), racialized workers in Ontario earn just 81.4 cents for every dollar paid to Caucasian workers. The gap is even wider for racialized women, who make just 56.5 cents per dollar when compared to what non-racialized men earn. While the gap has narrowed slightly over the past decade, the pace of change remains slow and unemployment rates for racialized workers remain significantly higher than those for Caucasian workers.

Aboriginal peoples experience the greatest level of income inequality, making 30 per cent less than non-Aboriginal workers. This wage gap is even more pronounced when comparing income differences between Aboriginal men and women. Aboriginal women earn 10 per cent less than Aboriginal men (working full time) and 26 per cent less than non-Aboriginal men.

Aboriginal women and girls also face disproportionately high levels of violence. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has reported close to 1,200 cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012. That same report highlighted the fact that Aboriginal women and girls make up over 16 per cent of female homicides and 11 per cent of missing women, yet make up only 4 per cent of the female population in Canada.

Today, our ability to advance racial justice is under attack from the Harper Conservative government. Right-wing politicians continue to cut public services and social supports, ignore calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and are fanning the flames of Islamaphobia in the lead-up to the next federal election. It’s crucial for working people to use our votes to elect progressive politicians who are strongly committed to fighting for equality and human rights.

In May, more than 1000 members from across the province will participate in the annual CUPE Ontario Convention. We strongly encourage Convention delegates who identify as racialized workers to join the Racial Justice Caucus, organized by CUPE Ontario’s Racial Justice Committee, to participate in discussions that play an important role in increasing our ability to advocate for equality. Visit for more information.

We must all raise our voices to demand an end to racial discrimination. Together, we will win the fight for fairness and equality.