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Yes to pay equity and fair taxation, no to two-tiered minimum wage! (Lettre d'opinion)

2011-02-15

[Lettre d'opinion envoyée aux quotidiens anglophones du N.-B.]
Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, wrote from Halifax (?) to tell the NB government not to give into "the wish lists of special interest groups ("Budget dos and don'ts”, published in the Telegraph Journal, February 4th, 2011; “N.B. budget: say 'no' to spending and 'yes' to regular taxpayers”, published in the Times & Transcript and the Daily Gleaner, February 4th, 2011).
 
But what is the Taxpayers Federation? An interest group! And who are its spokespeople? All spokesMEN!
 
Kevin Lacey “denounced” the Coalition for Pay Equity’s call for a fair tax system. Well, does he want an UNFAIR tax system? That would be an “interesting” viewpoint to defend...
In any case, let me explain the Coalition’s position.
Fair taxation so that caring jobs are paid fairly
Four groups of workers in caring jobs are waiting for pay equity adjustments: home support, transition house, child care and group home workers. They have completed or are about to complete pay equity programs which compared their salary with that of jobs of the same value, but typically held by men. These four groups were promised pay equity adjustments in 2010, by the provincial government. But we had an election, and they are still waiting.
Since this summer, much has been said about the province’s deficit and debt. But we did not miss the fact that not only taxes have lowered constantly in the past fewyears, but the beneficiaries of these tax cuts have overwhelmingly been the wealthiest New Brunswickers. Right now New Brunswick has embarked on a new fiscal reform that will lead to even lower income tax for the high-earning individuals and businesses.
How could we, as a society, justify cutting taxes from the wealthiest while delaying pay equity adjustments for low-income workers such as home support, transition house, child care and group home workers? These workers have been underpaid long enough to see an end to wage discrimination.
Pay equity for the private sector
We now have a pay equity act for the public sector. We are still waiting for its full implementation but in the mean time, private sector workers are still waiting for pay equity legislation. Jobs mostly done by women still need to be paid fairly, compared to jobs of the same value that are mostly done by men, everywhere in the province. And there would be financial benefits for the whole province. A 2004 study by the economist Ather Akbari showed that by reducing gender wage discrimination, the province could gain as much as $226 million in additional total tax receipts (including personal income tax, sales tax, etc.). Something to think about in the current situation...
Two-level minimum wage: a bad idea!
Pay should not be based on a person’s characteristics. Who can say that the economic needs of a 17 year old are lower than those of a 19 year old, just based on their age? This is like going back to the days when the minimum wage was lower for women than for men, because it was assumed that women could rely on a husband’s income.
The NB Coalition for Pay Equity promotes equal pay for work of equal value. What does it mean? That pay should be paid based on the skills, efforts, responsibilities, and working conditions required for the job.
The other idea floating around is to pay lower wages to workers who have the possibility to earn tips - mostly women. But how can we assume that these workers will earn tips? Tips are a function of the menu price. The workers have no influence on that.
No matter how you put it, a two-level minimum wage totally goes against fairness.
Government policies should support equality.
Government policies should promote equality and fairness. We are urging the provincial government to carefully assess the impact of its fiscal and budget decisions on women and on disadvantaged groups. The fiscal reform has to be reversed, pay equity made a reality for all people in predominantly female jobs and a single minimum wage maintained for all New Brunswickers.
 
Marilyn MacCormack is Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity

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