The NB Media Co-op’s Chris Walker interviews Vallie Stearn, chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity. The bilingual coalition of concerned women, men, labour unions and community organizations is committed to achieving economic equity between women and men through pay equity legislation.
CW: New Brunswick workers suffer from pay inequity. Can you explain what is pay equity? How is it different than pay parity?
VS: Pay equity refers to equal pay for work of equal value. Historically, certain jobs have been considered primarily female, particularly “pink collar” jobs and those in the “caring” professions, such as those in the health and social service sectors. These positions have been undervalued and underpaid, and the skills, knowledge, and effort required, as well as the working conditions, have long been underestimated. The majority of women still work in these sectors, and this is a major reason why women still make only 70 cents [for every dollar that men make].
Pay parity means equal pay for equal work, and is something that is already guaranteed under the Employment Standards Act. If you are a woman and you know that you are not being paid the same as a man for the same job classification in the same workplace, you can submit a complaint to the Labour and Employment Board to have it corrected.
CW: How can the government rectify the problem of pay inequity?
VS: To ensure pay equity, jobs considered female and those considered male can be evaluated, and points can be assigned to the relative degree of knowledge, skills, and effort involved, as well as the level of difficulty of working conditions. In this way, apples and oranges can be compared, in order to quantify the pay adjustments needed to bring women’s wages in line with men’s.
CW: How is your organization attempting to resolve the problem of pay inequity in New Brunswick?
VS: When the NB Coalition for Pay Equity was first formed, there was no legal guarantee for pay equity. Our first success was in 2009, when the NB government enacted the Pay Equity Act for the public sector. Job evaluations in the civil service, education and health sectors, as well as Crown Corporations, are being conducted as we speak, and pay adjustments are supposed to be rolled out this April. This was a fabulous achievement. However, we still need legislation for the private sector, including jobs in the quasi-public sector such as child care, home support, transition houses and community residences or group homes. About two-thirds of New Brunswick women work in the private sector, and are just as deserving of pay equity. Such legislation has been successfully enacted in other provinces, and we deserve no less here in New Brunswick.
CW: In some sectors, such as child care, the provincial government tops up wages. One could criticize this type of policy on the grounds that it represents a government subsidy for business which enables private employers to pay low wages and thereby maximize profits. Would pay equity legislation be any different?
VS: Child care is among the many social and health services that are privatized. In addition to the pressures of wage discrimination on the basis of gender, privatization also acts to drive wages to the ground. Currently, the NB government controls wages for what some call the “quasi-public” sector by controlling the amount of funding available for those services which are privately-owned. This is also true for home care, special care homes, community residences, and many other social service agencies. These services are mandated by the province and demanded by taxpayers; however private-sector profits are only possible if wages are kept as low as possible. The provincial government collaborates with this situation through privatization. Non-profits fare little better, since wages are based principally on government per-client subsidies. There are several models of pay equity legislation. Perhaps the best model of legislation comes from Québec. Under this model, employers are required to bring female- dominated job classes up to par with male-dominated ones within their workplaces. Where there are no male-dominated classes to compare to, which is so often the case in child care agencies and many other social service agencies, there is a mechanism of comparison with like-jobs in the job market. However, as you have so correctly pointed out, pay equity legislation cannot correct the low wages which result from the privatization or contracting out of government-mandated services such as child care. That is one of many compelling reasons why we need publicly-run, publicly funded, universally available and accessible child care. The NB Child Care Coalition was formed to achieve this goal.
CW: How has the media covered your coalition’s work on pay equity?
VS: We have much more difficulty getting covered by the major English-language newspapers compared to L’Acadie Nouvelle, Radio-Canada, etc., which are more willing to cover local and community news and events. We are glad that The Brief is willing to feature the Coalition and the issue of pay equity so that our message can reach the rest of the province.
CW: For someone who wanted to get more information on this topic, or get involved, what do you recommend?
VS: To get more information or get involved in the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, you can call our Moncton office at 855-0002 and ask for Johanne Perron, Executive Director, or you can visit our website. It’s people like you and me working together that can make a difference!