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A Women’s Day challenge for Kathleen Wynne

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Dear friends:

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she cares about women’s equality. I don’t doubt it.

But when it comes to wage equality, my feeling is her words don’t match her actions.

Last September, Wynne directed two of her cabinet ministers to work together to “close the wage gap between men and women.”

“Women make up an integral part of our economy and society, but on average still do not earn as much as men,” she wrote. She told Women’s Minister Tracey MacCharles to tackle inequality with “a comprehensive approach.”

I have to agree: a comprehensive approach is exactly what we need.

As we mark International Women’s Day, there are a number of things the Premier could do to boost women’s wages and “close the wage gap”:

  • She could raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as many great activists are demanding. Women are over-represented in low-wage jobs, so bringing up the minimum would help women most.
  • She could get serious about enforcing the Pay Equity Act. Union women have made decent progress on this, but most non-union women have no real way to enforce their rights. Wynne should help them unionize. At the very least she should make employers obey the law.
  • She could make “equal pay for equal work” the law in Ontario. Women are over-represented in part-time, temporary, and temp agency jobs, which often pay less than permanent full-time jobs. If two people are doing the same work, they deserve the same pay.

But here’s my number one suggestion for Premier Wynne on International Women’s Day: stop attacking public sector wages.

There is no sector of the economy where women, overall, are doing better than men when it comes to wages. But the public sector comes closest. We are 62 per cent female and 71 per cent unionized, and over the long term we have been very successful in promoting equal pay for women.

There are many public sector women who are still underpaid. That’s a fact. Yet overall, the public sector is a bastion of fair wages for women, compared to the rest of the economy. So it makes no sense that Kathleen Wynne’s strategy at the bargaining table is all about driving down public sector wages while in front of the cameras she talks about equality for women. I agree with her words. But in her actions she is attacking the part of the economy where women have made the most progress towards wage equality. It makes no sense.

Our union will not hesitate to point out the hypocrisy of Wynne’s position as we continue our fight for fair wages for OPSEU members and for all working Ontarians.

Happy International Women’s Day!

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

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