Moncton – On the eve of International Women’s Day, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity reflects on the work done to address the threats posed by COVID-19 to gender equality.
At the Destination: Equity march held one year ago today, more than 200 people marched to demand that the provincial government reaffirm its support for gender equality and recognize that pay equity is key to women’s equality.
“We had no idea that we were days away from the outbreak of COVID-19, which would have a disproportionate impact on women,” said Frances LeBlanc, the Coalition’s Chair. “Yet, the pandemic has not slowed down our work. On the contrary, the pandemic revealed existing cracks in our system and bolstered the very solutions we have been advocating for the past 20 years: equal pay for work of equal value for workers in female-dominated jobs and fair working conditions for women.”
The value of care
The Coalition’s main focus this past year was community caregiving sector because it was one of those hardest hit by the pandemic. The sector’s largely female-dominated workforce in New Brunswick cares for over 15,000 seniors, people living with a disability, children, and women fleeing violence. Earning between $14 and $16 an hour, these essential workers have been systematically undervalued and underpaid for decades.
The Coalition continued to exert political pressure to increase their wages. “We were successful in securing provincial investments in wages increases for the past three years. And with the help of public support and the endorsement of 41 organizations, we secured a $2,000 wage top-up for long-term care providers earning less than $18 per hour,” said LeBlanc.
“This temporary recognition and public praise of caregiving work during the pandemic only underlined the pivotal role it plays in our communities and the health care system as well as the need to pay this work at its fair value.”
A pay equity maintenance exercise conducted in 2020 by the Coalition for home support services, community residences and transition houses found that fair wages should be about $22 to $25 an hour. The Coalition recommends that, in light of these evaluations, the government develop a five-year plan to achieve pay equity across the sector, starting with investments in wage increases in the next 2021-2022 budget.
“Caregivers join a host of other female-dominated workers that found themselves on the frontline of the pandemic, such as cashiers, food workers, early childhood educators and maids. We continue to fight so the economy places greater value on their work by ensuring they are paid at their fair value, and have access to paid sick leave,” added LeBlanc.
Going forward, the provincial government must consider the economic role and needs of all women in its recovery plans. It must seriously consider wielding pay equity as a tool to foster the full participation of women in the workplace and to improve their economic reality, as the federal government taken the first steps towards the implementation of the Pay Equity Act.
“The pandemic has taught us that we must remain vigilant because our hard-won gains can easily be rolled back and there is still a lot of work to do for gender economic justice. We won’t rest until the right to pay equity is guaranteed for every New Brunswicker employed in a predominantly female job.”
Rachel Richard is the public affairs and communications officer for the New Coalition for Pay Equity.