The recent pay equity win for rural postal workers has focused attention on the need for comprehensive pay equity legislation that covers all workers, not only those in select sectors.
On Nov. 28, Monique LeBlanc, Liberal Party MLA for Moncton East, tabled a bill to extend pay equity to private sector employers with 10 or more employees. “New Brunswickers working in the private sector have been waiting for this law for a long time. They want pay equity to take precedence over partisan considerations. The bill provides a perfect opportunity for party collaboration to advance gender equality,” said Frances LeBlanc, the Chair of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity.
The previous week, a coalition of equality and equity-seeking groups in the province sent a letter to all MLAs stating their apprehension with the current political environment and highlighting pay equity for the private sector as a key concern.
The letter, signed by the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, the YWCA, Regroupement féministe du Nouveau Brunswick, the NB South Central transition house and second stage coalition and the SJ Women’s Empowerment Network, stated that pay inequity is “a form of discrimination rooted in old outdated values.” The letter pointed out that although public sector employees in female-dominated jobs have received pay equity, more than 65% of employed women in New Brunswick work in the private sector and to date there is no pay equity legislation to protect their rights.
On Nov. 29, Megan Mitton, Green Party MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar referenced the letter during question period in the Legislature. She asked the PC government to commit to introducing pay equity legislation for the private sector. After her question and follow-up did not receive a clear response, the issue was taken up by the leader of the Opposition who started a heated debate with the premier about pay equity and how to grow the economy.
The premier stated that the government’s pay equity commitments will focus on home care workers, not all private sector workers. He stated that private sector businesses are suffering, they have been hit hard enough, and the way to grow the economy is through a strong private sector.
“Women should not be shouldering the burden of economic growth,” said Johanne Perron, Executive Director of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, in an interview with the NB Media Co-op following the debate in the Legislature. “Pay equity is a human right. It’s time to act. We can’t keep on waiting.” Perron said her organization is hoping in spite of what was discussed in the Legislature that day, that all political parties would work together to implement a solution that would benefit everyone in the province.
Following the Throne speech of the PC government on Nov. 20, the NB Coalition for Pay Equity had issued a statement expressing disappointment at the lack of measures in the speech for pay equity for the private sector. The next day, the NB Common Front for Social Justice also issued a statement, expressing its puzzlement that the Thone speech has a section entitled: An Economy that Includes Everyone yet does not mention women or pay equity. “How can we build our economy if we leave the majority out?” asked Pauline Gallant, co-chair of the NB Common Front for Social Justice.
The letter on Nov. 23 from the coalition of equity-seeking groups called on all citizens in NB to get involved in the pay equity issue to: “ensure our voices are heard and taken into account by government.” Acting to address pay equity in the private sector and other issues of inequity — affordable, accessible and inclusive childcare; comprehensive programs to end relationship abuse and violence; safe and affordable housing and gender equality at all levels — will have a positive impact on not only the provincial economy but also families and the social fabric.
MLA Mitton also made a link between pay equity and gender violence when she spoke again in the Legislature on Nov. 29, which was the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. “We have some serious and outdated cultural stereotypes about women, what they are capable of, what their work is worth, and if they should even be in the workplace,” she said. Referencing the lack of progress since the 1989 Montreal massacre of women at the Ecole Polytechnique, Mitton said: “We still have a pay gap, we still don’t value work traditionally done by women, we still don’t have pay equity. These things contribute to undervaluing women, and that contributes to violence against women.”
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and a researcher with the UNB RAVEN project (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment).