Equal Pay Coalition

September 15, 2007 10:00 ET

Equal Pay Coalition Election Action to Close Ont's Gender Pay Gap

Attention: Assignment Editor, Media Editor, News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO--(Marketwire - Sept. 15, 2007) - It's time to end pay discrimination for all Ontario women regardless of where they work. With the gender pay gap still at 29%, many women electors continue to receive less pay for their "women's work" than men do for comparable work. That is why the Equal Pay Coalition is launching this week its province-wide Campaign. The Coalition aims to ensure that the gender pay gap is not forgotten in election debates, meetings and canvassing.

The Ontario government committed to legislate a pay equity law in 1985, stating then that "the achievement of equal opportunity and social justice for all Ontarians is a fundamental and unalterable commitment of the Ontario government." (Green Paper, 1985). In 1988, the Pay Equity Act was passed.

What about today? This coming year marks the 20th anniversary of pay equity in Ontario. It is necessary to recommit and take action to ensure the Government's promise of pay equity is kept. The work of women is critical to the economic success of Ontario's public and private sectors. Yet employers including the Government refuse to pay women fairly for that work.

Women on average still earn only 71% of what men earn - leaving a 29% pay gap. This is the best evidence that pay equity is far from being achieved or maintained as the Act requires. Pay inequities affect women regardless of their occupation, age or education. Pay equity is good for business. Pay inequity is not. Businesses and communities are missing out on the positive economic and social impacts - such as increased productivity, reduced turnover and less poverty - which come when workers are paid equitably.

Some gains have been made. Many women, most unionized and in the public sector, received significant pay equity adjustments back in the 1990's which closed the pay equity gap at that time. As a result of two Charter challenges started in 1996 and 2001 women in predominantly female public sector workplaces received hundreds of millions of dollars to start the pay equity adjustments which were owing to them. But many of the original pay gaps have now widened with all the changes to the Ontario economy since that time. For Aboriginal women, women of colour, older women, immigrant women and women in low-pay jobs, the discriminatory gender pay gap is even greater to start with and most work in sectors not yet affected by the law's enforcement.

There is much to be done by Government to ensure that women, their families and their communities all benefit from the end to pay discrimination. The Equal Pay Coalition has written to all four party leaders and to candidates asking for their position on pay equity enforcement. We are asking the party leaders and candidates to commit to strengthen, revitalize and fully fund the effective enforcement of non-discriminatory pay for all Ontario women. In particular, we are asking for their specific promise to:

a. Increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour effective January 1, 2008 as a pay equity downpayment for vulnerable women workers;

b. Fully fund the pay equity adjustments owing to women providing important public services to Ontarians; and,

c. Fully fund the Pay Equity Commission and Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal so that the Pay Equity Act can be vigilantly enforced.

With the number of promises being made by the leaders about their proposed public expenditures and a $2.3 billion Government surplus this year, it is clear that there are substantial monies available to pursue important public policy women delivering public services the money they were owed to close discriminatory pay gaps.

The Coalition's questionnaires are due back on Monday, September 17, 2007 and on Wednesday, September 19, 2007, the Coalition will release the results of these responses to this questionnaire to the media. The responses will be circulated widely and posted on the Coalition's website. The Coalition and its member organizations will be working to see that this issue is raised at all candidates and other election meetings across the province.

The Equal Pay Coalition was formed in 1976. Its call for urgent action is backed by its broad-based membership of over 39 trade unions, community and social justice organizations, and business and professional women's organizations who represent over one million Ontarians. See objectives. As well, the current surplus was created in part by not paying www.equalpaycoalition.org for a list of our members.

See also the attached Pay Equity Backgrounder. For a copy of the letter sent to party leaders, visit: http://www.equalpaycoalition.org/election.php.

PAY EQUITY BACKGROUNDER: SEPTEMBER 14, 2007

Pay Equity - A Fundamental Human Right

Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal value, a right guaranteed by the International Labour Organization Convention 100 (ratified by Canada in 1972). Women workers must be paid free of the gender-based pay discrimination which values and pays women's work less than men's work of comparable value.

The Pay Equity Act

The Act is a legal remedy for ending discrimination which and requires that men's and women's jobs are evaluated in a non-discriminatory way by accurately identifying and valuing the skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions of those jobs and raising women's pay to that of comparably valued men's jobs. Ontario's proactive pay equity law with specialized enforcement machinery, along with proactive responsibilities for employers and trade unions serves as an international model for the enforcement of ILO Convention 100.

Gender-Based Pay Discrimination - The Gender Pay Gap

Pay discrimination affects Ontario women of all ages, races and education levels, regardless of family decisions. Women receive less for their work regardless of where they work in the economy, the size of their workplace or the precariousness of their work. Women outnumber men in nine of the ten lowest-paying occupations in Canada.

The most vulnerable women - Aboriginal woman, women of colour, racialized or immigrant women, and non-unionized women workers - face an even greater gap than the wage gap between white men and women. While the overall pay gap in 2006 is 29% according to Statistics Canada, racial minority women earn 36% less than men; Aboriginal women earn 54% less; women with disabilities earn significantly less than women and men without disabilities.

Women's discriminatory pay affects them throughout their lives. Young women graduating from high school earn 27% less than male high school graduates. Young women graduating from university earn 16% less than male graduates but this pay gap widens as their careers progress. The median income of retired women is almost half that of older men. Women and their children dominate the ranks of the poor more than men.

The Pay Equity Act helped to reduce Ontario's gender pay gap which stood at 36% when the Act was introduced. Pay equity plans implemented in the early to mid-1990's did address much of the pay gap which existed in 1988 for mostly unionized workers.

Pay Equity Non-Compliance

Many non-unionized women never received Pay Equity Act adjustments because their employers ignored their obligations and they did not have a union to fight for them. Many new employers since 1988 opened their doors but did not do so with equitable wages as required under the Act. Women's jobs have changed dramatically since 1988 but pay equity plans and employers' compensation practices have not been changed to reflect this and to ensure that pay equity is maintained. Many public sector women's jobs have been privatized, with women having to leave behind their pay equity adjusted wages. As well, private sector employers now employ increasingly fewer "employees" as they seek to transform their employees into independent contractors to avoid legislative employee entitlements, such as pay equity.

1. Public Sector Funding

More than 100,000 women work in publicly funded broader public sector jobs like child care, battered women's shelters and other key community service agencies, which, as traditionally female jobs have some of the largest pay gaps and had to use the proxy comparison method to identify their pay gaps. The Government, as a result of the 2003 Charter challenge settlement provided 2003-2005 funding to help with closing those gaps.

Since 2006, the Liberal Government has failed to continue dedicated funding for these pay equity adjustments that remain owing to close the identified gaps which on average will need to be paid up to 2011, based on annual payments of 1% of payroll. These women are far from "achieving" pay equity, and at the same time are seeing themselves fall far behind their comparators in the public sector. Based on a Government chart, produced in Charter litigation, as of this year, the Ontario government has failed to deliver $369 million owing to these hard working women for delivering public services in 2006 and 2007. A further $1.4 billion dollars is owed from 2008-2011. The Government is now open to a further Charter challenge as result of this failure to fund.

2. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Minimum wage laws are a key pay equity measure. Women, including those disadvantage by factors such as race, disability and age are clustered in minimum wage jobs, without the benefit of a union. Lacking a properly funded Pay Equity Act enforcement machinery to help them, their employers have ignored their obligations to make sure their pay is cleansed of pay discrimination.

Low minimum wage policies ensure that women and their children remain poor. It is estimated that a single person working full-time needs an hourly wage of $10.00 per hour just in order to reach the poverty line. Increasing the minimum wage will have a significant impact on closing the gender pay and reducing women's poverty.

3. Restoration of Commission and Tribunal Funding

The Commission and the Tribunal have had their funding and staff substantially stripped and have been unable to effectively carry out their difficult and extensive enforcement mandate. In 1992-3, under the New Democratic Party Government, the Pay Equity Commission and Tribunal employed and appointed 86 people and relied upon 28 review officers for enforcement, with a budget of only $6.8 million dollars. However, even this limited budget was cut by over 46 per cent by the Progressive Conservative Government when it came to power in 1995. These cutbacks also eliminated funding for the Pay Equity Legal Clinic which assisted non-unionized women to enforce their pay equity rights.

The cutbacks continued when the Liberal Government came to power in 2003, with the Commission and Tribunal budgets being reduced a further 20 per cent since that time. By 2006, their combined budgets had fallen to just $3.4 million - one half of the 1992-93 budget. Now, there are only 32 employees, 16 Review officers to cover the entire province, no regional offices, no research officer, and no library.

The Coalition is calling for the Commission and the Tribunal to be restored to at least the 1992-93 funding level of $6.8 million and whatever further funding is necessary to ensure vigorous Act enforcement and the closing of Ontario's gender pay gap.

Sources: Statscan, 2000; Pay Equity Commission Annual Reports and Website. Resources on Equal Pay Coalition Website -www.equalpaycoalition.org. IN: FINANCE, LABOUR, MEDIA, POLITICS, OTHER

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