Fair pay means that the work women and men do is equally respected and valued. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many workers in Canada, where there is still a big gap between what women and men earn. Thanks to the labour movement, this pay gap is already much less for women with unions, but income equality for all working women is the ultimate goal.
What has the labour movement done?
Unions have long been at the forefront of efforts to reduce the gap between women and men’s wages. Until the 1950s, men and women working side by side, doing exactly the same job were paid differently. This was no secret – the first laws establishing minimum wages in Canada were written for women workers. Unions worked for equal pay for equal work through bargaining and changes to legislation, and won Equal Pay legislation at the provincial and federal levels in the 50s and 60s.
Unfortunately, employers could still get away with continuing to pay women less by hiding unequal pay in differences in job titles, benefits or bonuses. Slight differences in duties could mean big differences in wages for jobs normally held by men, and women were often streamed toward jobs considered “women’s work”. So workers had to demand equal pay for similar work – changes in legislation to close these
loopholes and ensure that minor differences between jobs could no longer be used as a reason to pay the woman less.
We call the right to equal pay for work of equal value “pay equity”. This means that jobs are evaluated on their skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. In this way, very different jobs can be compared for their value in the workplace. In 2004, a federal Pay Equity Task Force made a number of important recommendations to address the gender wage gap in Canada. Their report also recognized
that wage discrimination exists for people with disabilities, Aboriginal workers and racialized workers. The labour movement has been pushing to ensure the Task Force recommendations are put in place. The federal Conservative government says it’s not needed, despite clear evidence to the contrary, and has even made it harder for women to obtain pay equity federally.
Only two provinces – Ontario and Quebec – have proactive pay equity laws covering both public and private sector workers. Under these laws, employers must take active steps to identify and eliminate wage discrimination. Several provinces have no pay equity legislation at all. Unions push for proactive pay equity laws in all jurisdictions to make sure that workers in both the public and private sectors have their rights respected.
Collective bargaining and pay equity measures significantly reduce the wage gap for women. On average, women with unions earned $6.65/hour more than women without unions. That’s because together, women and their unions negotiated pay that reflects their skills, education and responsibilities. That union advantage translates into $552.5 million more every week paid into women’s pockets to spend on their families and in their communities.
Union Wage Contribution to Women in Canada*
Average hourly wage for women with unions: $26.32
Average hourly wage for women without unions: $19.67
Union Advantage: $6.65 per hour
What the Union Advantage provides to Women $552.5 million/week
How can we close the gender pay gap once and for all?
- Make it easier for women to join unions.
- Develop a jobs strategy that promotes women’s participation in the workforce, and improve access to education and training, child care and other services so women can balance work and family responsibilties.
- Implement the recommendations of the 2004 federal Pay Equity Task Force.
- Ensure every province & territory implements effective pay equity legislation.