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Women and the Strategic Program Review

2016-01-19

As beneficiaries, caregivers in their families, caregivers in the workplace, employees in predominantly female jobs, employees in any field – women have many reasons to care about public programs and services and, therefore, the Strategic Program Review and the provincial budget.

The government says that it has three priorities: jobs, families and finances. These priorities certainly seem right. The question is: does the Strategic Program Review help fulfill these three priorities? Clearly, it does not. Rather, it almost exclusively focusses on one priority: finances, i.e. the reduction of the government’s deficit. So, all the options presented in the document “Choices to Move New Brunswick Forward” are about cost saving and revenue generating. Hardly any are about improving services. And none creates jobs.

A close look at the document shows that many of the options contemplated by the government involve privatization. Some people may argue that there will be as many jobs. Maybe, but probably not. Privatization generally leads to fewer jobs. And even if there are as many jobs, would they be high-quality ones? Jobs that can really support families and fuel the economy?

Many services are currently privatized: home support, community residences, special care home services, literacy, child care, etc. All of these are heavily female-dominated employment sectors, with high client needs.  That funding is channelled through for-profit or not-for-profit private agencies and it is always limited.

The result? Poor working conditions. Little job security in many cases. Understaffing, and crushing workloads.  And low, stagnant wages. If all those jobs were paid at the same level as male-dominated jobs of the same value, wages would reach over $20 an hour rather than the current level of $13 to $15 an hour.

One could have hoped that the Strategic Program Review would address this shocking situation.

But instead, since the focus is on reducing the deficit, many proposed options look at how to reduce jobs. That actually goes against one of the government’s objective of job creation and may have a negative impact on women in the work force.

So far, the government’s job creation effort seems to rely heavily on construction and road building. In order to pay for these investments, the government seems ready to disinvest from public services and programs. That is problematic. Women hold many jobs in the public sector and some of these jobs may soon be cut or privatized. Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, female-dominated care-giving jobs in the private sector remain underpaid. Construction and road building represent very few jobs for women. Surely, if the government did a gender-based analysis of its overall budget, it would have identified that problem. 

Why not look at social infrastructure too for job creation? Wouldn’t it be a great occasion to address the lack of child care services and adequate services for seniors and people with special needs? We thought that a strategic review would help evaluate the population’s needs, adjust the services to better meet these needs. Wouldn’t it be strategic to look at where resources are lacking?

In the past few months, the government has set up a Child Care Task Force, a Literacy Secretariat and a Provincial Steering Committee of Human Service Practitioners and Senior Government representatives. We look forward to hearing the outcome of these efforts which seem promising. To date, the reports from these initiatives are either not completed or not published yet. We hope that the government will take steps to make improvements in these areas.

To support the goal of pay equity, the Liberals have promised to require pay equity plans from organizations with more than 50 employees doing business with the government through procurement or financing. We look forward to seeing the impact on women’s jobs in the private sector. We are still waiting for the government to follow through on its other pay equity commitments, i.e., to review the pay equity methodology used in care-giving services, and to fully implement Pay Equity Act, 2009, in the public sector.

Let’s hope that these initiatives will influence the Strategic Program Review and lead to improved services as well as pay equity wages for workers in female-dominated jobs whether in the private or the public sector.

* Vallie Stearns is the Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity. The Coalition is a member of New Brunswick Prosperity Not Austerity.

 

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