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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.