Gender wage gap could take 100 years to correct

Based on the current rate of progress, it will take more than 100 years before women earn the same wages as men.

In Ontario today, even though women now account for roughly half of the labour force, they continue to make 31.5% less than the average annual earnings of male workers – one of the largest reported gaps in the world.

It amounts to a gendered wage penalty that is compounded by race, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity and ability. It is an economic price that women pay at every wage level, regardless of their age, education or occupation.

Action on wage equality cannot wait another year, let alone one hundred.

Read: Ontario Budget: Gender wage gap committee to report in May

This year, as millions of women around the world observe March 8 as International Women’s Day, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is calling on the Ontario government to take concrete action to close the gender wage gap by 2025. Under the banner the “Ontario We Want” the OFL, affiliates and our community partners are demanding a stronger commitment to pay equity and a sweeping overhaul of Ontario’s outmoded labour laws to lift every worker out of poverty.

“For over a century, women have sought to unionize their workplaces as a vehicle to pull themselves out of low wage conditions, secure decent benefits and improve their standard of living,” said OFL Secretary-Treasurer Patty Coates. “However, many women continue to find themselves in precarious employment and earning sub-poverty wages. To maximize women’s economic potential, we need to raise the floor for every single worker.”

A recent study on the rise of precarious employment tells the story of a dramatic restructuring of Ontario’s labour market where as many as 50% of all workers are trapped in temporary, part-time and contract jobs. Women are over-represented in this vulnerable majority of workers, making up 70% of part-time workers and over 60% of the 1.7 million Ontarians who earn at or near the minimum wage.

Read: Federal pay equity motion adopted

Women workers who do not belong to a union are eight times more likely to earn poverty wages and half as likely to have a workplace pension. Unionized women receive an average pay boost of $7.83 an hour and benefit from better job security and workplace benefits. The fair wages and work hours that unions have negotiated for women workers in Ontario deliver nearly $231.2 million more every week into the provincial economy and provide critical support to families.

However, regardless of union membership, all Canadian women have benefited from the achievements of unions. Laws guaranteeing the minimum wage, pay equity, maternity leave, and harassment free workplaces were all secured because of the work of trade unions.

“Closing the gender wage gap will require more than just equal pay for equal work,” said OFL President Chris Buckley. “While the expansion and enforcement of pay equity legislation can provide strong tools for levelling the playing field for women, they won’t be able to reach their full economic potential without broad improvements to employment standards, a $15 minimum wage and easier access to joining a union.”

Read: Mental health in women linked to gender pay gap

As part of the “Fight for $15 and Fairness” movement that is sweeping Ontario, the labour movement is using the occasion of International Women’s Day to highlight the need for pay equity and labour law reform by calling on Ontario to “Make it Fair.”

“2016 is the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in a Canadian province. Nellie McClung and the ‘Famous Five’ led this historic victory in Manitoba and paved the way for women’s suffrage across Canada,” said Coates. “What better way to honour their legacy than to make sure that one hundred years from today, young women will look back on wage discrimination as a similar relic from another century.”

The OFL is encouraging women workers across Ontario to celebrate International Women’s Day by attending community events being held across Ontario and to join the campaign to raise wages and working standards for every worker.

Read: Women face gender pension gap