President's Message

Human rights must trump austerity

Publication Date

Friday, January 22, 2016 - 2:30pm

Dear friends,

Would you set up shop in a country where you could lose your head for criticizing the king?

Our provincial government would. For close to a year, I’ve been asking our Premier to explain why Algonquin College in Ottawa has a campus in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a dismal human rights record; it routinely uses floggings and executions to put down dissent.

Saudi Arabia is also famously sexist: women there can go to jail for driving. So how does Algonquin’s male-only program represent Ontario values? Should we be denying education to women?

An even better question: How does this represent the values of our Premier, a vocal advocate for women’s rights?

Looks like hypocrisy to me. And it’s not just abroad.

Here at home, Kathleen Wynne has denied funding for pay equity in more than 180 OPSEU bargaining units. She has turned pay equity into just another item on the bargaining table.

This is wrong. Equal pay for work of equal value is a human right. It’s the law in Ontario. Yet many employers haven’t made pay equity payments for years.

At this rate, hundreds of thousands of women will never get what they’re owed. They’ll retire first – or die.

I don’t question Kathleen Wynne’s credentials as a feminist. But she won’t put her money where her mouth is. She’s as progressive as can be on issues that have no price tag, but when it comes to economic equality, the cupboard is bare.

For Wynne, it seems, austerity trumps human rights.

Algonquin College – and Centennial and Niagara Colleges – are in Saudi Arabia because they are grossly underfunded at home. Working women in Ontario are underpaid because Kathleen Wynne won’t raise the money to pay them.

The Premier has a surprisingly high tolerance for economic inequality. Ontario is richer than ever, but she won’t use our wealth to invest in public services – the greatest equalizer of all. And she won’t use it to help women get a fair shake in the workplace.

Centennial College now says it will pull up stakes in Saudi Arabia. That’s good. It shows the power of public opinion.

Let’s take this lesson and educate the Premier. Let’s tell her: You don’t just honour human rights when you’re caught in the media spotlight. In the Ontario we want, human rights must trump austerity.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

View all President's Messages: 2009 to Current

Pay Equity CommitteeProvincial Human Rights Committee [PHRC ]Provincial Women's Committee [PWC]