Unionization is one of the most effective ways to ensure that women are paid fair wages, Deb Tungatt, OPSEU Region 2 Vice-President, told a town hall meeting of the provincial government’s Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee in Burlington Nov. 23.
“A lot of people, especially in the retail, hotel, and home care industry don’t have unions to help them,” said Tungatt. “Yes, we have the Employment Standards Act, the Pay Equity Act, and the Ontario Human Rights Code, but they are not accessible. Most of us can’t begin to navigate these systems without a union’s help. Making it easier to unionize by implementing card-check certification would be a tremendous benefit.”
Tungatt was building on points made by OPSEU President Smokey Thomas at a previous meeting of the committee. OPSEU is challenging the wage gap at bargaining tables, under the Human Rights Code, and through pay equity, he said. One example is the union’s support for a Human Rights Tribunal challenge against the LCBO’s practice of underpaying casual employees. “We have strong arguments and I think we are going to win,” Thomas said.
Tungatt said that “there is a difference in the way community members discuss the wage gap and the way unionists discuss the issue. Sadly, women seem to put it back on themselves. That’s not right. The focus needs to be on the systemic issues which are not women's fault.
"At the end of the day it comes back to the question of who has the power and the authority, and that’s the government. I hope that this committee is going to take the information back and say: ‘There is an enormous gender wage gap and the government has the power to fix it, so the government should do its job.’
“But the reality today is that instead of helping women, the provincial government is one of the worst offenders. When the government imposes wage freezes and austerity measures, who does that hurt the most? Women. When they cut the funding to organizations and transfer payment agencies, fail to meet their pay equity obligations, or don’t offer paid sick days, it hurts women the hardest.”
Wage inequality hurts the province's economy, a research report from the Gender Wage Gap committee says. "Achieving greater pay equality between men and women would benefit Ontario's economy and society at large," the report notes. "The gender wage gap is both an issue of fairness and an economic imperative. Failure to address this gap could undermine the competitiveness of Ontario businesses and the province's potential for economic growth."
The committee will issue two interim reports and a final report with recommendations to the province by the end of May.
Future meetings are scheduled for Scarborough, Peterborough, Sudbury, London, St. Catharines and Brampton. President Thomas encouraged OPSEU members to attend the meetings and promote union rights. Meeting dates can be found here.