A FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION ON PAY EQUITY IN ONTARIO: A SPECIAL 20TH ANNIVERSARY REPORT CONTRIBUTING TO ONTARIO’S FUTURE
prepared by the Mary Cornish and Fay Faraday with the assistance of Michelle Dagnino, Janet Borowy and Janina Fogels
Ontario Equal Pay Coalition – www.equalpaycoalition.org
Twenty years after Ontario’s Pay Equity Act was passed, Ontario women, working in segregated job ghettoes, continue to suffer systemic gender-based discrimination in pay. In Ontario, where a person’s pay is critical to family, community and provincial prosperity, the gender pay gap at 29% is a human rights crisis which must be solved.
Like the current financial crisis, the pay gap crisis will continue to erode Ontario’s economy and impair its future prosperity unless pro-active interventionist measures are taken to bring gender equality to the pay systems of Ontario’s labour market. The International Labour Organization, World Bank and World Economic Forum all recognize that closing the gap is a key component of sustainable global productivity and equitable and secure development and governance. It is well-recognized internationally that poverty reduction goals will not be met without addressing women`s pay inequalities in all poverty reduction planning.
The current financial crisis provides even stronger reasons for making the issue a priority given that Ontario’s women workers, many of whom are low-paid and poor – are struggling to cope in this volatile economy. Scrambling every month to make ends meet, losing almost a quarter for every dollar a man is paid is devastating to a family budget. Over a lifetime, this pay gap adds up to astonishing financial losses for women—ranging between $700,000 and $2 million depending on the level of education the woman has completed.
In 1984, the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment warned of the hugely negative impact on women of perpetuating discriminatory low wages:
The cost of the wage gap to women is staggering. And the sacrifice is not in aid of any demonstrably justifiable social goal. To argue, as some have, that we cannot afford the cost of equal pay to women is to imply that women somehow have a duty to be paid less until other financial priorities are accommodated. This reasoning is specious and it is based on an unacceptable premise that the acceptance of arbitrary distinctions based on gender is a legitimate basis for imposing negative consequences, particularly when the economy is faltering.
When the Ontario Government introduced the Act in 1988, it committed to “the achievement of equal opportunity and social justice for all Ontarians” as “a fundamental and unalterable commitment of the Ontario government”. While there is cause to be proud on one level of Ontario’s leadership in passing one of the most progressive pay equity laws in the world, that leadership ended in the 1990’s. As a result of a sustained 10 year lobbying campaign by the Equal Pay Coalition, the Act was passed in 1987. In 2008, the Coalition, representing over 1 million workers in organizations ranging from trade unions to business women and community groups – is continuing this struggle to end pay discrimination. The release of this Framework for Action – The Way Forward Report is part of the Coalition’s 20th Anniversary campaign.
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