This is an article that should not have to be written, about a fund-raising campaign that should not have to be held.
The issue of pay equity — that is to say equal pay for work of equal value, regardless of whether the job is mostly done by men or women — ought to have been settled decades ago, about the same time that women won recognition as persons before the law, gained the right to own property, achieved voting rights as Canadian citizens.
The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of women working in Canada work for significantly lower wages than men performing jobs that may be different but have the same value.
Let’s look at a few statistics:
In New Brunswick, women account for 64% of minimum wage workers.
In New Brunswick, 82% of single-parent households are headed by women.
In New Brunswick, in 2011, women earned 88 % (on average) of what men earned – a difference of $2,43 an hour.
That is not to say that there is no progress at all. In 1998, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity was established to advocate for legislation on equal pay for work of equal or comparable value, relating specifically to the value of jobs traditionally and principally held by women in both the public and private sectors. With a membership of more than 700 individuals and over 80 groups, the Coalition campaigned for New Brunswick’s Pay Equity Act which came into force on April 1st, 2010, ensuring pay equity for all provincial public servants.
This left unprotected those New Brunswick women working in the private sector, whether for companies, institutions or professional practices; yet the provincial legislation represented a big step forward.
It was disheartening, therefore, when in the midst of this progress the Coalition was dealt a serious setback three years ago. The federal government included it among 35 women’s advocacy organizations whose federal funding was eliminated by the Department of the Status of Women Canada.
In consequence, even in this day and age, the Coalition has no choice but to seek the generous support of fair-minded individuals and businesses in order to finance the ongoing struggle to win the basic human right to pay equity for all women in New Brunswick.
Did we say human right? Yes. Pay equity is a fundamental human right. This principle of non-discrimination in wages is well-established in international human rights law and enshrined in several human rights treaties to which Canada is a signatory. Indeed, since 1977, Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has stated that “it is a discriminatory practice for an employer to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees… who are performing work of equal value.”
And beyond all that legal terminology, there’s a fundamental question of fairness. Failing to provide pay equity is just not right. Slightly more than 50% of the world’s people are women. Why on earth would we want to hold back over half the world’s human potential?
Yet that is exactly what we continue to do, so long as we maintain a gender-based wage gap. And in doing so, we deprive our society and our economy of significant social and economic benefits. Here are just four examples:
Equal (and hence better) pay enhances the economic independence of women, enabling them to leave substandard housing and making them less vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Better pay for working mothers enhances their ability to provide sound nutrition and quality day-care for their children and improves the odds that those children will become healthy, productive citizens.
Every dollar spent in the day-care sector in Canada has been shown to increase the gross domestic product by $2.30, according to economist Robert Fairholm (Canadian Family Magazine, March 2012).
Better pay during women’s working lives results in higher pensions and therefore less chance of poverty and welfare dependency in retirement.
In short, improvements in the economic situation of women will lead to improvements in the economic situation of society as a whole. The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity makes a difference to society because it works tirelessly for greater social justice for women and their families.
The Coalition’s fundraising goal for the current campaign is $75,000. More than half ($38,000) has already been secured but still more generous support is needed to take it over the top. The achievement of pay equity will result in a better quality of life for working women and, in particular, for the most vulnerable among them, in order to improve the economic and social conditions in which they live.
It’s a good cause and yes, it’s a matter of justice.
Jeanne d’Arc Gaudet and David Hawkins are Campaign Co-chairs for the Coalition for Pay Equity. For more information on the campaign and how to donate, please visit the Coalition website at http://www.equite-equity.com/fundraising.cfm.