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Op-ed : Why we need a law on pay equity for the private sector

 The Gallant government has recently released the New Brunswick Family Plan Framework Document.  In it are laid out “seven pillars” to support families, including a range of health and social services such as senior care, care for people with disabilities and mental health challenges, and primary health care. Notably it includes strategies to advance women’s equality and reduce poverty.  Arguably central to all these pillars is pay equity, namely equal pay for work of equal value, especially in the caregiving sector of work.

The Family Plan makes a connection between public support of families, health and wellbeing, women’s equality, pay equity and an improved economy. We, the Coalition for Pay Equity, couldn’t agree more.

In fact, we would take this one step further.  Pay equity is not just desirable to improve our economy and quality of life, it is a fundamental human right.   All those public services that are mentioned in the Family Plan, plus the ones that are not — most conspicuously childcare — are in what can be called the “caregiving sector “— and they are delivered mostly by women.  Traditionally, this care work was provided to a large extent by wives and mothers.  Today, in senior care, mental health, disability support services, primary health care, and health promotion, the workers are overwhelmingly women, in some cases over 95%.  And these work environments are also characterized by substandard wages, in many cases hovering between $11-14 an hour.  These are not living wages, nor do they reflect the high value of this work to our society.  And why should these workers be paid less than the value of the work they do, simply because they are (mostly) women?

In the Final Report of the New Brunswick Child Care Review Task Force,  also recently released (and which we can note, recommends pay equity for child care workers) acknowledges that the market model is “less effective in ensuring high-quality learning and childcare is accessible, affordable and inclusive”.  We agree.  The open and unregulated market is not able to provide, even with subsidies, what families need.  Child care costs are skyrocketing, and nominal child care subsidies handed out to parents cannot put a dint in it.  These expensive services are also characterized by low wages.    On average, untrained child care educators are paid $14.11 per hour and trained educators, $16.16.  A child care system that is publicly managed and funded can achieve both equitable wages and higher quality services at a lower cost.

Ruth Rose, an economist from the Université de Québec à Montréal, in her study of wages in the New Brunswick caregiving sector observed that the same market model which cannot deliver affordable, accessible childcare, also routinely and systematically undervalues and underpays what is considered traditionally as “women’s work” such as child care workers.  Left to its own devices, the market produces and will continue to produce discriminatory wages.

That’s why we need pay equity legislation.  We need proactive legislation that puts the onus on employers and not employees to demonstrate that wages are equitable or inequitable.  Even-handed legislation that would require all employers to measure the value of work performed predominantly by women using similar standards. And effective legislation that would require wage adjustments where necessary.

We have legislation that covers the public sector, which is unrolling too slowly, but unrolling just the same.  Now we need legislation that covers the private sector equally, including all those for-profit and not-for-profit agencies in the caregiving sector that rely on public funds.  This would be good for families receiving public services because it would increase the stability and quality of those services.  It would also be good for the women (and men) who provide the services.  It would also be good for the public purse in terms of increased revenue and reduced expenditures and public services associated with poverty. And finally it would be good for the wellbeing of consumers, workers and businesses who are at the foundation of our economy.  Pay equity is a win-win solution.

In short, legislation that requires pay equity in the caregiving services in the private sector is needed — it hasn’t happened in the past and won’t in the future on its own accord.  Pay equity legislation is just the right thing to do.  It would not only support public services, families and the economy, but it would ensure a basic human right.  We should expect our government to do no less.

Vallie Stearns-Anderson
Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity

 

 

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