« Pay Equity Throws Off the Shackles of the Past » par Johanne Perron (en anglais seulement)

A recent Times & Transcript editorial (Jan. 20) suggests that pay equity was flawed from the start. Well, maybe we can explain why “from the start” is inaccurate and that it was not flawed.
Pay equity is reached when jobs mostly done by women are paid the same as jobs that have the same value but are mostly done by men. In other words, it is equal pay for work of equal value. In fairness, who would disagree with that? Really, that seems only appropriate, only fair, doesn’t it? So why do we even need to ask for equal pay for jobs of the same value?
Because in the past men were seen as the family’s main breadwinner; pay systems were built around that approach, thinking or attitude. Now in the 21st century, our society’s values have changed. In fact, according to a recent survey, 95 per cent of Canadians value gender equality. That brings us to review our assumptions and approach in respect to pay systems.
By adopting pay equity processes, we can take out the stereotypes and prejudices from workplace compensation. Pay equity processes start with detailed job descriptions and then compare jobs based on responsibilities, competence, efforts and working conditions.
The Times & Transcript’s editorial raises the question “Can the private sector afford pay equity?” The newspaper’s answer is, apparently and surprisingly, “no.” Yet pay equity processes require employers to compare jobs within their own workplace. So if employers can afford paying, for instance $16 an hour for jobs mostly done by men, then why couldn’t they afford to pay $16 for jobs of the same value of work but done mostly by women?
Let’s think about it another way: can employers afford not to have pay equity? There is certainly a benefit to attract and retain the best workers. Better pay and the recognition of the value of one’s work are no small incentives for employees. Better paid employees also means higher purchasing power, which helps local businesses, which contributes to the local economy.
In the case of home support, child care, and transition house workers, the government plays an important role in setting regulations and standards. It also contributes a fair amount of the funding even though the services are provided by private sector businesses and organizations. Clearly, the government has a responsibility to contribute sufficient resources to ensure fair equitable pay to the workers in these fields as well as any other government-mandated services.
For pay equity purposes, when and where there are no male comparators within the same workplace, a different methodology is required to ensure fair pay is needed. The N.B. government developed its own. The Coalition welcomes this initiative but sees important improvements that need to be made. For instance, the wages of predominantly female jobs should be compared to the aggregated average wages of unionized and non-unionized workers. The exercise is meant to define the value of a job, not of unionization even though unionization certainly helps promoting workers’ rights.
The Times & Transcript concluded by saying that child care workers may be less skilled than foremen and therefore easier to find. The reality is that child care, home support, and transition house workers are most often very skilled.
No thoughtful person would disagree that workers in this sector have extremely important responsibilities towards the most vulnerable of our society. These factors are exactly what pay equity exercises seek to document.
As well, these workers are not that easy to find! The turnover rate is historically quite high in these fields. One reason is that the wages simply do not match the job’s requirements. However, as things now stand, the wages are artificially kept low by insufficient funding, itself kept low because it is assumed these jobs are not very skilled.
We understand that the Times & Transcript finds “frustrating” the way pay equity goes beyond pay parity (equal pay for the exact same job). But, dear Times & Transcript, it is time to expand the thinking about this! Today’s resistance to pay equity strangely resembles the past resistance to a woman’s right to vote, to a married woman’s access to paid work, to maternity leave, and to equal pay for equal work.
Surely our society and women cannot and should not be expected to stay shackled to a discriminatory past. There is no social justice in that. Discrimination against women is intolerable in the Canada and the New Brunswick of 2013, and 95 per cent of all Canadians agree with that.
The NB Coalition for Pay Equity believes in our society’s ability to change for the better, for greater justice and fairness, for gender equality. Working together, New Brunswickers will one-by-one continue to eliminate the historic, artificial and discriminatory barriers to women’s economic equality.
  • Johanne Perron is the executive director of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity.

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