Pay inequality perpetuates the devaluation of women

Posted November 14, 2013

Written by Beth Lyons



(This post originally appeared in the Times and Transcript on November 14th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

At the end of October, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity (NBCPE) launched its fourth annual fundraising campaign, through which the organization hopes to raise $90,000.

The NBCPE’s vision is an admirable one. They envision “a society in which the value of jobs, traditionally or predominantly held by women, is recognized and remunerated equitably.” To achieve this vision, the coalition’s mission is to “educate and advocate for the adoption and implementation of adequate legislation in order to achieve pay equity for all workers in both the public and private sectors.”

There is often confusion between wage parity and pay equity. While the two concepts are linked, they are different. Wage parity refers to individuals who hold the same positions receiving the same pay (i.e. a male nurse and a female nurse receiving the same hourly wage). Pay equity is not about individuals holding the same job, but jobs that have comparable value, with value being determined by skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Pay inequity is an issue that negatively affects all of society by perpetuating women’s inequality. According to the Women’s Equality Branch, “Historically, women and men tend to work in a narrow range of traditional jobs . . . Traditionally female jobs typically employ skills that women have used in nurturing their families and managing their homes and are often times undervalued and underpaid. Pay equity seeks to address this pay inequity so that jobs traditionally done by women that are of comparable value to jobs traditionally done by men, with the same employer, should be paid the same rate.”

Pay inequality not only economically disadvantages women, but perpetuates the ongoing devaluing of skills, jobs, and labour that are associated with women. In other words, it perpetuates the devaluation of women.

Legislation is largely viewed as the key to achieving pay equity. The NBCPE argues that it has consistently been shown that voluntary pay equity initiatives simply do not work and that the issue must be addressed through legislation. Across Canada, some provinces have legislation that only covers the public sector, while others (Ontario and Quebec) have legislated both the public and private sectors. New Brunswick has a 2009 pay equity law that came into force in 2010, but it only covers public sector employees in the civil service, health, education, and Crown Corporations.

When provincial pay equity legislation was introduced, it was also announced that five private sector groups would be receiving pay equity adjustments (nursing home, child care, home support, transition home, and community residence workers). These private sector groups are each either primarily composed of women or involve skill sets that have typically been associated with women and, therefore, undervalued.

The NBCPE has been critical of how the pay equity adjustments have rolled out, and continues to call for more comprehensive legislation that will affect the entire public sector, as well as the private. Additionally, the Coalition is urging the government to recognize pay equity as a necessary part of the next provincial poverty reduction plan.

The NBCPE has also done great work in demonstrating how pay equity links to other issues affecting women’s equality, including women’s leadership in the community sector and violence against women. In a recent Global News piece on pay equity, Ginette Petitpas Taylor with RCMP Victims Services noted that many women remain in abusive relationships because they simply can’t afford to leave.

The NBCPE is important not just because of its admirably dogged work on issues of pay equity and women’s equality, but because of what it is: an advocacy organization, focused on an issue that predominantly affects women, that has managed to survive in the current political climate. In a context where support to advocacy and research work is being slashed and the non-profit sector is being increasingly tasked with short-term pilot projects and service provision downloaded from the government (with largely instable funding, of course), the Coalition stands firm in its mission and reminds us all that straight-up advocacy work in New Brunswick isn’t dead.

If you’re interested in learning more about the NBCPE, visit their website: www.equite-equity.com.

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