Well, it’s Equal Pay Day.
We wish today could be a happier one, where we all celebrate the success of finally closing the gender wage gap in Ontario.
But obviously, that’s not what today is about.
The gender wage gap persists, and it does for so many reasons. Sure, we have laws in place – like the Pay Equity Act – that aim to correct some of the factors contributing to the gap. But a worker on her own can’t easily achieve pay equity. Building a case for pay equity requires access to pay records, complex calculations, and, usually, long, drawn-out negotiations. Most workers don’t have the time or resources to do it on their own.
That’s why, even though pay equity is the law in Ontario, most women in non-union private sector jobs can’t be sure they’re receiving fair pay at all. In lots of cases, they aren’t.
That’s not right. The right to equal pay for work of equal value — not to mention plain old equal pay for equal work – is a human right. And it’s required by law. Women shouldn’t have to make the case for it.
Unfortunately, rights and laws on paper aren’t enough. We have to enforce them.
That’s why most workers who have won pay equity, or equal pay for equal work, have had unions to take on their cases. Just look at the public sector. It has the smallest gender pay gap relative to any other sector in Ontario; it’s also the most densely unionized. That’s no coincidence. It is a fact that strong unions are the surest way to equal pay.
But having a union doesn’t mean the fight for fair pay is over.
In recent times, we’ve seen this in developmental services, where we have been taking on employers and the Ontario government for failing to make pay equity payments. We’ve seen that at the LCBO, where an arbitrator recently decided that equal pay for equal work was just another issue between the employer and the union – not a human right that no one should have to pay for.
Looking at the collective agreements we’ve negotiated, our union can point to many successes, going back many years, in the fight for equal pay. But Equal Pay Day isn’t a day to pat ourselves on the back – far from it. It’s a call to arms. We need to rise up and fight with everything we have, at bargaining tables, on picket lines, in organizing drives, and at the ballot box.
It’s time for Ontario to really be an equitable province. It’s time for progressive legislation that makes unionizing easier; it’s time governments and employers got serious about enforcing pay equity for all workers; it’s time for universal child care and all the other supports we need to give everyone equal access to the job market.
Some day, if we keep fighting – and we will – women will get the financial recognition for the work they do, both paid and unpaid. When that day comes, then, and only then, will we be able to say, “Happy Equal Pay Day.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, First Vice-President/Treasurer
Ontario Public Service Employees Union