Women’s wages and the public sector


Dear friends:

I don’t see many movies, but I did hear about Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Academy Awards this year. After she won an Oscar, Arquette called for “wage equality once and for all” for women in the U.S.

It was a great speech. But meanwhile, here in Canada, a right-wing think tank was calling for the exact opposite.

You’ve probably heard of the Fraser Institute. It’s funded by employers. Its sole purpose is to promote viewpoints that make the rich richer. The institute loves high profits and low wages. It hates public employees because our work serves everybody, not just the few at the top.

Anyway, Fraser put out a paper last week saying that public sector wages in Ontario are too high and should be cut. The paper said public sector wages in Ontario were 8.5 per cent higher than private sector wages in similar jobs.

This is an estimate, not a fact. These studies are hard to do – there aren’t many jobs that exist in both sectors, so direct comparisons are tricky. And you can’t use the data that are available without making a lot of assumptions. That’s where biases can creep in.

But one thing all the wage comparison studies agree on is this: whatever difference exists in pay rates, it has a lot to do with women, and low-income women in particular.

Last summer, statistician Richard Shillington decided to settle the debate, once and for all. His study concludes that there is a difference between public and private sector wages: public sector wages are fairer. That’s because public sector wages are, mostly, better for workers on the low end of the wage scale, and these workers tend to be women. In Shillington’s words:

…there is a reward for public sector employment, which is enjoyed disproportionately by two groups: those who would otherwise be paid very low wages, and women…. Those benefitting from a public sector wage premium are, in general, not ‘fat cats’, but those would otherwise be working poor.

As members of a public sector trade union, all OPSEU members should be proud of what we’ve accomplished in the fight for wage equality for women. Through bargaining, and through enforcement of the Pay Equity Act, we’re making a real difference.

There’s still more to do, but one thing is for sure: pushing down public sector wages is not the path to equality. Lifting up women’s wages in the private sector is.

Let’s tell that to the bad actors at the Fraser Institute.

In solidarity,

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

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