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Lana Payne: Equal pay — women are tired of waiting

As I listened last week to leaders from the Nordic countries competing with each other over the issue of achieving gender equality, the stubbornness of the gender pay gap, and why sustained government action is required, I was struck by how much effort in Canada we still have to put into merely explaining why our governments should act to implement and enforce pay equity.

Lana Payne

Canada, comparatively speaking, is not that advanced nor progressive in our gender equality action plan. The leave-it-up-to-market-forces approach or the odd nudge with weak legislation has been an abysmal failure for women who were told to get higher education and the pay gap will disappear. That has not been the case.
Indeed, a study last year noted that the gender pay gap is not getting better, but rather worse, dropping to 72 per cent from 74.4 per cent in 2009.
Of course, pay equity won’t fully resolve gender inequality, but we can’t close the pay gap without it.
The Nordic government representatives were speaking at a session at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) — a gathering of thousands of women from around the world pushing their attending government representatives to advance women’s equality, to live up to their previous commitments and to commit to further action.
The minister from Iceland said: “we have no one to follow, so we must lead.”
And lead they are.
This year on March 8th, International Women’s Day, the Icelandic government announced a new law that would require employers to ensure they are living up to newly developed equal pay standards.
Most pay equity laws are complaint-driven. In other words, women have to endure being underpaid and then prove through a complex process that they are being paid less for work of equal value to their male counterparts. Iceland is putting the onus on the corporations to prove they are paying what they should be. This could be revolutionary.

Iceland’s plan is bold. It wants to eliminate the gender pay gap and it is doing something about it.
It’s called action.
And we need more of it here in Canada.
Equal pay for work of equal value is by no means a new concept. Rather it is an idea many politicians and employer groups have pushed back against for 65 years since the United Nations passed Convention 100 and declared equal pay a fundamental human right at work.
And women are still explaining why their work should be valued.
There is a glimmer of hope.
But that hope is dampened with another request that women wait.
The federal government has said it is committed to introducing new pay-equity legislation, but women must wait until 2018 for that legislation to be tabled. Consultations on that law will follow and then there will be a phrase-in compliance period. In other words, more waiting.
The law will require employers in federally regulated industries to ensure women and men are paid equally for work of equal value.
Sexist wage discrimination remains pervasive and stubborn.
It is not going to go away on its own. Indeed considering the rise of precarious and temporary work, the gender pay gap is likely to worsen without concrete action.
Action was the very topic of a private member’s bill brought forward by NDP MHA Gerry Rogers, also on International Women’s Day. The pay equity bill was supported by all three parties in the House of Assembly with a positive and noteworthy response from the Liberal Status of Women minister, Cathy Bennett.
But again, women have been told we must wait.
Most experts agree, closing the pay gap will make a huge difference for our economy. As governments struggle with growing inequality, here is a tailored made solution to help address it.
Even the Nordic countries, with all their efforts, worry about resolving the “unconscious gender bias.”
Of course, the gender pay gap has layers of discrimination based on whether you are an Indigenous or an immigrant woman, a woman of colour or if you are a woman with a disability. In these cases, their path to equality, economic or otherwise, is fraught with additional barriers.
Studies and polls show most women believe sexism is still alive and well, while most men do not. And that is part of the problem, especially when those men are making the decisions and signing the paycheques.
As the Nordic leaders explained last week, fixing gender inequality is not merely the right thing to do, it is the rational thing to do.
How rational? Well according to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, a whopping $12 trillion would be added to the global GDP by 2025 just by advancing women’s equality.
Women are demanding economic justice and they are losing patience with all the waiting.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.


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