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This Equal Pay Day, let's mobilize for change

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Every year, women around the world celebrate (angrily) the day their average full-time full-year earnings have caught up to men's average full-time full-year earnings from the year before.

This year in the United States that day fell on April 12. In Germany it was March 19. In Switzerland it was February 24.

In Ontario? Equal Pay Day* comes on April 19.

This will be the third year that the Ontario provincial government officially recognizes Equal Pay Day, but this year there is cause to be hopeful that change is in the works. Not only has the Ontario provincial government been examining this issue, but the federal government has convened a special committee on pay equity.

To help us better understand gender pay gap dynamics in Ontario, Dr. Kendra Coulter at Brock University conducted a survey of retail workers, an already low-wage and feminized sector. Sheetal Rawal, a lawyer and pay equity expert, contributed analysis and context, and I helped out with some numbers. Our whole report can be found on Dr. Coulter's website, revolutionizingretail.org.

What we found will sound familiar to many who have worked on pay equity issues over the years. Managers are more likely to be men, lower-wage occupations within retail are more likely to be women. Men are more likely to be employed full time, whether they are managers or cashiers. Even within retail locations, managers have gendered ideas about skills, expecting women to be better with customers or to be good at cleaning tasks, and expecting men to do more physical labour.

Equal Pay Day is calculated based on the difference in full-time earnings between men and women, but it turns out it is not just about wage equity, but also about "hours equity."

The women who responded to Dr. Coulter's survey wanted more hours, but were consistently frustrated with growing precarious work trends in their workplaces. They told us that unpredictable scheduling is the norm rather than the exception, and it is common for employers to hire more casual workers instead of giving current workers more hours. This persistent hours deficit combined with unpredictability takes a toll on workers, especially if they have unpaid work responsibilities as well.

As our report notes, "Workers are often expected to have full-time availability without any of the benefits (financial and otherwise) that come with being employed fulltime."

Our report makes several recommendations about how the Employment Standards Act can address the gender gap in hours, including:

  • advance notice for work schedules,
  • minimum hours guarantees,
  • requiring that part-time, contract, and temporary workers be paid the same wage as full-time workers doing the same tasks, and
  • paid sick leave.

Provincial consultations on the gender pay gap ended on February 29, 2016, and a report is expected from the steering committee in May 2016. Then we'll need to mobilize to make sure the evidence gathered results in concrete changes for women in Ontario, and across Canada. Otherwise, we'll be waiting another 228 years for the wage gap to close on its own.

Ain't nobody got time for that.

*Your own personal Equal Pay Day may vary significantly, based on a variety of factors. The Labour Force Survey gives us some insight into the pay gap for new Canadians and Aboriginal workers living off reserve. The CCPA in Ontario have calculated that women who are landed immigrants earn $21,000 less per year than non-immigrant men (39 per cent pay gap), and Aboriginal women earn $31,000 less per year than non-Aboriginal men (57 per cent pay gap). We desperately need better data on the pay gap for racialized workers and workers living with disabilities.

Photo: Morgan/flickr

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