A message from President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice President/Treasurer Eddy Almeida on International Women’s Day
This International Women’s Day there is a lot to celebrate.
Women’s rights are human rights, and workers’ rights. When women are strong, the labour movement is strong. And when labour is strong, it is good for all workers.
The movement for women’s rights is thriving. Young women are joining longtime women`s rights activists to campaign, rally and lobby for equality and justice.
Women everywhere are breaking the silence, and demanding to be heard and believed. Following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that inspired the #MeToo movement, sexual violence, harassment and domestic violence issues are now front and centre in the public’s mind. Women’s activism has transformed our understanding of workplace violence and paved the way for a more just future. This change is historic.
OPSEU’s membership is more than 70 per cent women. One of the reasons why OPSEU is so strong is that women know what it means to struggle and fight for workers` rights. With every contract that we bargain, and every workplace that we organize, we help improve women’s working conditions.
From grassroots campaigns to global movements, women’s actions directly contributed to increases in the minimum wage and to safer and fairer workplaces.
Last year OPSEU’s Mind The Wage Gap campaign that included rallies, an ad campaign and direct pressure on Premier Wynne brought women’s rights to the government’s doorstep.
In the last year alone, the minimum wage in Ontario rose from $11.60 to $14 an hour in January, 2018. We know most of the precarious, low-wage work force is made up of women. This wage increase will change the lives of many thousands of women and children.
The minimum wage hike was no accident. Women throughout the labour movement worked for many years together with a massive network of grassroots community groups to form the campaign for $15 and Fairness. Unless the Tories come to power in Ontario, we will meet that $15-an-hour goal.
And just look at Bill 148: The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, and the changes this has made to the Employment Standards Act. The government has proposed changes that would better ensure equal pay for equal work especially for the kind of work largely performed by women. New protections for casual, part-time, and seasonal employees, as well as those employed through temporary help agencies means these workers will be entitled to the same rate of pay as regular employees. That alone is a game-changer. But Bill 148 also introduced paid leave for victims of domestic and sexual violence that doesn’t go far enough.
We have had some victories such as the successful drive to organize 20,000 part-time college support staff, mostly women, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
We have a long way to go to ensure respect for racialized women, who continue to be among the lowest-paid workers. 36 per cent of First Nations women living off reserve experience poverty and 23 per cent of racialized women live below poverty levels. And the fight continues to win justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The story of Tina Fontaine is just one example of how the system is failing Indigenous women.
We’re very proud of the work OPSEU’s equity groups do to improve the lives and workplaces of women.
On International Women’s Day, we especially want to recognize our Provincial Women`s Committee. As champions for the rights of women, they make the union and the province a better place for all workers. We also want to congratulate the OPSEU Indigenous Circle for their tireless work promoting and defending the rights of Indigenous women and girls.
Finally, we want to make a challenge to every OPSEU member: In the upcoming Ontario elections, think hard about which party and which candidates are most likely to advance human rights for women. And then vote accordingly. It’s time to transform the momentum into action. Your vote can change lives.
Women`s rights are human rights. Standing up for women’s rights is the right thing to do.
Celebrate International Women's Day at events across Ontario: https://opseu.org/news/international-womens-day-events