The COVID-19 crisis has been hard on all of us, but for women, it has made a bad situation even worse. In many ways, women are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. For example, they are in the eye of the storm in health care services, personal support and developmental services, child protection, and child mental health services. And it is mostly women who are staffing women’s shelters and supportive housing. This March 31, on Equal Pay Day, we reflect on women, equity and fairness.
Traditionally, Equal Pay Day is a chance to acknowledge how much longer a woman must work to match the earnings a man makes in one year. In 2019, women had to work, on average, three more months to earn the same pay as men. The economic impact of COVID-19 has created new hardships for many women who find themselves out of work through the careless actions of employers who are too quick to avoid doing their part in battling this pandemic.
It’s hard to focus on anything else at the moment, but we should still try to take some time to reflect on the longstanding problem of women not receiving equal pay.
For decades, OPSEU has fought hard to bring pay equity to the workplaces we represent, despite push-back from employers. Our female members work in many majority-female occupations and workplaces, including health care, social services, community agencies, clerical/support work and education. Just go to a grocery store or pharmacy and, once again, women are answering the call in traditionally low-wage jobs, now recognized as essential to the economy and the health and safety of Ontarians.
According to Leger Research, on average women earned $51,352 in 2019, compared with $67,704 for men – or 24 per cent less. Sadly, it’s the fifth-largest gap in the developed world. The gap is even greater for racialized, Indigenous and disabled women. We find these figures completely unacceptable and a blight on Canada’s record as an enlightened and progressive nation.
For transgender women, the pay equity gap is even wider. According to the University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy, male-to-female transgender workers see their earnings drop substantially. Female-presenting people suffer through the discrimination that non-transgender women experience – plus the discrimination they must confront as transgender individuals.
As a society, we must take action. For starters, we have to get the minimum wage back up to $15 per hour or more. We must demand legislation implementing equal pay for part-time workers. Finally, we must pass pay transparency legislation that forces employers to disclose employees’ salaries. These measures would go a long way to narrowing the gap.
Within OPSEU, we will continue to demand that equal pay for equal work and equal pay for work of equal or comparable value be the norm in every one of our workplaces.
During this pandemic, we showed leadership by closing our offices before most large organizations did, and our staff continue to work from home. This step was particularly important for our female staff members, who are statistically more likely to take care of elderly family members.
Whether we are advocating for equal pay for equal work or making thoughtful decisions during the COVID-19 crisis, we will continue to defend the rights of all workers.
We’re all in this together.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEUÀEduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer