Women’s wages shouldn’t come at a discount, but the gender pay gap in Canada hasn’t improved in decades. In fact, for many women it’s getting worse.
This is about economic justice for women
Women in Canada are being paid less than men for work of equal value. It’s happening to women no matter what their level of education or whether they work full or part-time. This wage discrimination exists because work traditionally dominated by women – like work in the caring professions – has always been undervalued compared to work traditionally dominated by men. The result? Women are making less over their working lives, and are more likely to live in poverty and end up retiring into poverty.
Wage discrimination is real
The numbers don’t lie, and they are appalling. Today – in 2020 – women overall make 32 percent less than men. But the gender gap is even wider for some. Here’s how, on average, different women fare compared to white men born in Canada:
- Racialized women make 40 percent less.
- Indigenous women make 45 percent less.
- Immigrant women make 55 percent less.
- Women with a disability make 56 percent less.
In 2004, a national Pay Equity Task Force laid out the path for a proactive approach to ending wage discrimination against women in Canada. Since then, trade unions and feminist organizations have consistently advocated for the implementation of the Task Force recommendations. Proactive pay equity regimes in several provinces—most notably, Ontario and Quebec—offer good examples of what can be achieved, as well as what to avoid.
Women’s work is essential
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how important work traditionally performed by women is to the health and safety of our communities. Cleaners, cashiers and caregivers are among the workers now recognized as “essential.”
But the work in these undervalued sectors is often invisible and unrecognized, marked with poor working conditions, exposure to violence and harassment and other health and safety risks, limited job security and access to benefits, including paid sick leave. Because many of these workers are Black, Indigenous, women of colour and recent immigrants, the undervaluing of this work also contributes to wider wage gaps for marginalized workers.
The pandemic brought many of these realities to the surface, and brought new or greater risks and inequities, such as a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 for these marginalized groups. Unlike other countries, women make up the majority of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and more women than men have lost their lives.
While some of these workers received temporary wage boosts, more needs to be done to make sure this work is properly valued and compensated for the long-term.
We can end wage discrimination
In December 2018, fourteen years after the Pay Equity Task Force report, pay equity became the law.
The Pay Equity Act requires public and private sector employers in the federal jurisdiction to take proactive steps to make sure different jobs are compared for their value in the workplace, and evaluated based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, leaving no room for gender discrimination.
The legislation will be enforced and administered by a Pay Equity Commissioner, who will work under the umbrella of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).
Our wait is not yet over, however. The new law does not take effect until regulations are developed, and the federal government has delayed this process to 2021. At this rate, it will be at least another decade before women see any real difference in their pay.
Join us to call on the federal government to:
- Work with unions and employers to develop pay equity regulations and bring the law into force by 2021;
- Ensure the regulations close any loopholes that would allow an employer to avoid meeting their obligations;
- Introduce strong pay transparency measures, including an obligation to file pay equity plans as well as details about compensation for workers in all equity‑seeking groups; and
- Ensure the office of the Pay Equity Commissioner has enough funding to implement the legislation and hold employers accountable.
To raise the wages and recognize the value of jobs in care, retail, food services and other frontline sectors, the federal government should work with provincial and territorial ministers of labour to:
- Increase provincial and territorial minimum wages to $15. The federal government should lead by example by implementing a federal minimum wage of $15;
- Enact, expand and enforce pay equity and pay transparency legislation in provinces and territories;
- Remove barriers to forming unions and promote access to collective bargaining by legislating or protecting card-based certification, taking measures to prevent contract-flipping, and exploring broader-based and sectoral bargaining; and
- Set standards in child care, home care and long-term care systems that include better wages for care workers.
Canadian women are done waiting for an end to wage discrimination. It’s time to value women’s work, close the pay gap and make pay equity the law. Add your voice now.