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A change is gonna come

Doreen Nicoll's picture
Sam Cooke's song, "A Change Is Gonna Come," offered hope during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, it reminds me that it's a long, slow, sometimes tiring walk to freedom and I need to remain focused on the goal -- an equitable world.

Closing the gender pay gap is long over due

| November 27, 2015
Closing the gender pay gap is long over due

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Recently, I attended a staging of Age of Arousal by playwright Linda Griffiths. Set in 1880's London, the play laid bare the predicament of Victorian women. Never expected to support themselves, women of a certain class, were passed from father to husband and taken care of in a fashion dictated by the men in their lives. But, what happens if father dies before you marry and you're left a spinster with no prospects on the horizon? More importantly, what if father left an insufficient inheritance and you find yourself living in poverty with no way out?

It becomes clear that real freedom is found through financial independence and the best way to ensure that is by earning your own income. This holds true today.

The conundrum remains, how can women achieve and maintain financial independence when female dominated jobs are undervalued, contractual, with limited to no benefits? Even when women manage to secure full-time positions with benefits on average they earn 70 per cent of what their male counterparts are paid. This discrepancy is referred to as the gender wage gap.

The gender wage gap is the difference between wages earned by men and women. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, "Despite increased participation in the workforce and higher levels of education and increased skills, women still face significant barriers and disadvantages in employment compared to men." 

Women are overrepresented in lower-paying occupations and industries, as well as minimum wage and part-time positions. Women continue to be underrepresented in many higher paying jobs and sectors that have been predominantly male-dominated.

The gender wage gap is usually greater for Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, racialized and immigrant woman. The more categories a woman occupies, the greater her financial disparity. This is known to as intersectional discrimination.

Pay equity, commonly referred to as "equal pay for work of equal value," is rooted in Canada signing the International Labour Organization's Convention Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women for Work of Equal Value (1951), Ontario passing the Female employees Fair Remuneration Act (1951), as well as Ontario's Pay Equity Act (PEA) (1987). The Act ensures that all employees, both men and women, employed in undervalued female job classes would receive pay equity wage adjustments.

The PEA places the onus directly on employers to establish and maintain compensation practices. In 1987 the gender wage gap in Ontario was 36 per cent. It currently ranges from 12 per cent to 31 per cent with the average coming in around 30 per cent.

In her 2012 paper, A Living Wage is a Human Right, Mary Cornish points out that by failing to achieve pay equity Canada is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related UN Conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Cornish goes on to say that, "the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian human rights and pay equity laws also provide the national and provincial human rights frameworks that require the elimination of systemic labour market pay discrimination on prohibited grounds. Laws such as the federal Employment Equity Act also require specialized, pro-active measures to be taken to address the discrimination facing women, persons living with disabilities, members of "visible minorities" and Aboriginal peoples."

The Minister of Labour, with support from the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, has been given the responsibility of creating a Gender Wage Gap Strategy (GWGS). Steering Committee members responsible for collecting information and creating a proposal include:

•Linda Davis, Past-President of the Business and Professional Women's Clubs of Ontario

•Dr. Parbudyal Singh, Leading expert in human resource management and labour relations

•Emanuela Heyninck, Ontario's Pay Equity Commissioner

•Nancy Austin, Executive Lead for the Ministry of Labour

Town hall meetings will be held in 13 cities across Ontario until February 2016.  The committee will release two interim reports before issuing a final report including a proposed strategy in May 2016.

Monday, November 23 the commission was at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington/Hamilton, Ontario. The crowd of close to 150 people, mainly women, were eager to share their cumulative experience, knowledge and wisdom.

Overwhelmingly, the fact that little has changed in the past 25 years shows that although legislation is in place there are significant problems with the PEA. Most notably, it has no teeth, is not enforceable, is too complicated, lacks transparency, and it addresses one small component from the vast range of social issues and supports that need to be addressed in addition to financial compensation.

In today's economy the traditional employer-employee relationship is no longer standard. This truth was borne out during presentations to the Changing Workplaces Review which heard from delegations earlier this fall. 

Several midwives spoke to the fact that they find themselves working in non-traditional employer-employee relationships compounded by the fact that they are in a position of responsibility and decision making that puts them somewhere between doctors and nurses. Yet, midwives are paid only half of their real value. The province's PEA doesn't cover them and Ontario's anti-discrimination laws don't help because their employment is non-traditional.

McMaster University was guilty of blatant inequality based on class, as well as gender, this past spring. Female professors at McMaster received significant pay increases to close the gendered wage gap with male counterparts, yet the university claimed it had no money to pay cleaning staff (predominantly female) a decent wage. At one point in the negotiations, the university threatened to fire the cleaning staff and contract out the work.

The committee also heard from a single mother of two children. This young woman was in the process of transitioning from working in the chronically underfunded non-profit sector to employment as a millwright. As with pay equity very little has changed to make the work/life balance more manageable for mothers and women who are family care givers. We are still waiting for affordable universal child care let alone 24-hour availability for parents who work shifts. We need affordable transportation and affordable housing. This young woman also raised the idea of respite care to give single parents without social supports a much needed break.

Transparency of wages for public companies would help women know what others in the same position earn. This is already practiced in unionized jobs. In fact, according to Debbie Tungatt, Regional Vice President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union:

"The most efficient way to close the gender wage gap is through unionization. Currently, the certification process requires two steps. The exception is the construction trade, a field dominated by men, which has a one step process. We need the same card check process for all."

Tungatt is referring to the fact that unionization tends to decrease the wage gap. However, when female dominated fields decide to unionize they not only have to get a minimum number of employees to sign their cards they then have to hold a vote in the presence of union representatives as well as the employer. A vote held in the workplace, in front of the employer is very intimidating and can prevent unionization. In construction, once a minimum number of cards are signed the site is unionized without a vote having to take place.

It became clear that the solutions to ending the gender wage gap are multi-faceted, but should include:

  • a mandated living wage
  • benefits including sick days and personal leaves
  • a national child care policy
  • immediate increases for low paid, predominantly female jobs including early childhood educators, homecare workers, personal support workers, and midwives
  • more women in government to address women's issues
  • more female union leaders to raise concerns unique to working women
  • more women heading corporations to act as role models for girls and young women
  • more women sitting on corporate boards to bring a female lens
  • tax incentives for companies to close the gender wage gap
  • revising the Proxy Pay Equity Plan which requires employer to pay only one per cent of the previous year's total payroll on pay equity adjustments until pay equity is achieved
  • using both a gender and an equity lens when creating and implementing government policy
  • PEA needs real implementation, a substantial budget, accountability and on-going monitoring if it is ever to make a change 

April 20, 2015 was Ontario's Equal Pay Day. This illustrates how far into the current year women must work in order to earn the same amount men earned the previous calendar year. For 2015 women will need to work until April 12, 2016 thanks to the gender wage gap.

Written responses to the Consultation Papers will be accepted until January 15, 2016.  They can be sent by:

rabble is expanding our Parliamentary Bureau and we need your help! Support us on Patreon today!

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