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It’s 2016: Close the Gender Pay Gap!

Large number of women protesting with caption "Ontario: Time for fair pay!"
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Equal Pay Day is marked on April 19 in Ontario. This is because with a 30 per cent gap in income, women on average need to work three-and-a-half months into the new year to earn what men do by December 31 of the previous year.

"The cost of the wage gap to women is staggering. And the sacrifice is not in the aid of any demonstrable social goal. To argue, as some have, that we cannot afford the cost of equal pay to women is to imply that women somehow have a duty to be paid less until other financial priorities are accommodated."

Justice Rosalie Abella

The OPSEU Provincial Women's Committee supports real, robust systemic change to close the gender wage gap.

Minding the Wage Gap at Convention

At this year’s Provincial Women’s Committee Breakfast, keynote speaker and social justice lawyer Fay Faraday explained the gender wage gap as follows:

“A woman would need to work to the age of 79 before she matches a man’s income at 65. She would need to work until December to reach what a man earns by September. On average, a woman puts in 13 years of unpaid work to equal the lifetime income of a male.”

The pay gap is on average a 30 per cent gap when women’s incomes are compared to men’s, but the gap grows more bleak when examining the incomes of immigrant and Indigenous women. For female immigrants, the gap is 53 per cent; for Indigenous women it’s 43 per cent.

As Faraday explained, more and more women also find themselves working in precarious, part-time employment. In 2013, 70 per cent of minimum-wage, part-time workers were women – a proportion that has not changed in 30 years. Women do not work fewer hours because they want to, but because the industries in which they are concentrated tend to offer only precarious or flexible work. And because a large percentage of women work in the public sector, they are more likely to be in jobs that are being privatized and contracted out.

The gender pay gap exists in every occupation and industry sector. It is also present across all age groups and education levels. Even experience seems to increase the gap. And the gap also grows with each step women take up the income ladder. In the top 10 per cent of women who earn an average of $109,000 per year, the earnings shortfall is 37 per cent less than for top earning men – a difference of $2.24 million over a 35-year career. For more information, please see Every Step you Take: Ontario's Pay Gap Ladder.

Faraday also identified a number of policies that widen the gender wage gap including income inequality, unpaid care work, the rise in flexible employment, austerity and the decline of unions.

Faraday said that when governments pursue zero wage growth and privatize critical public services like social services and health care, women are forced to bridge the care gap with unpaid work and those jobs become more precarious. All of these factors also drive the wage gap wider. Eliminating social programs that provide training and education for women drives the wage gap wider. Refusing to fund affordable, accessible childcare, eldercare and care of persons with disabilities drives the wage gap wider. Eliminating funding for public sector agencies that have pay equity obligations drives the wage gap wider.

Privatization depends on leveraging women’s unpaid and underpaid work. That drives and sustains the wage gap.

But the gender wage gap isn’t just bad business practice: it’s a violation of fundamental human rights law. Every instance of the gender wage gap is discrimination that must be resolved and that needs to be addressed.

Faraday said that active intervention was needed by governments and businesses to transform government policies and practices that drive women’s inequality and poverty.

What needs to be done is to address the gap in a wider range of places because there are so many different dynamics that actually drive the wage gap. There’s not one single place where reform needs to happen – it needs to happen by shoring up pay equity, making jobs less precarious, raising the minimum wage, advocating for a public care strategy, and enabling unionization. As Faraday said:

“None of this is simple and we shouldn’t try to make it simple. It all needs to work together to take down the different bricks that prevent us from reaching equality.

We also need to bridge the gap of equality for everyone—not just the women who confront the 30 per cent gap, but the women who face the 47 per cent wage gap.