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Pam Frampton: Pay equity should be a given, yet here we are

That men and women are paid the same for equal work should be a given, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is still not the law. — Stock photo
That men and women are paid the same for equal work should be a given, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is still not the law. — 123RF Stock Photo

“I’m getting paid exactly the same as (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) did last year. No, I know, there was two of them. But it’s not my fault if they wanted to share the money, is it?”

— Ricky Gervais, hosting the 2016 Golden Globes, taking a jab at the lack of pay equity in Hollywood

 

Applicant: “I’m here about the assembly line position at your factory?”

Boss: “What are your qualifications?”

 

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

 

Applicant: “Well, I worked with cutting-edge widget assembly technology for five years in Mississauga. I have good references.”

 

Boss: “You can start right away. The pay is $16.20 an hour.”

Applicant: “$16.20? But a cousin of mine got a job on your assembly line last month and he’s making $26.50 an hour, and his previous experience was sorting caplin at the fish plant.”

Boss: “Yes, well, but you’re a woman, aren’t you? You could end up getting pregnant any time at all.”

Applicant: “But you can’t pay me less based on gender and because I might have a child some day.”

Boss: “Of course we can. If it wasn’t for your cousin, you wouldn’t even know what anyone else here was getting paid. He’s a man. Some day he’ll probably have to provide for a family. Besides, I happen to know your husband’s got a federal government job, making top dollar and the best kind of pension. You don’t need to be out in the workforce at all.”

•••

You won’t hear that scenario play out at a job interview this century — we hope— yet that attitude was evident in this province within living memory, and the tangible effects of that discriminatory mindset are still being felt today.

Is there some kind of unspoken deduction if you happen to have ovaries? Are hourly wages set according to estrogen levels?

The wage gap between men and women in Newfoundland and Labrador is very real — at 28.5 per cent, it’s the worst in the country, according to Conference Board of Canada data from 2016.

Canadian women are paid roughly three-quarters of what men earn. In this province, it’s only two-thirds, for reasons fathomable only to their employers. Is there some kind of unspoken deduction if you happen to have ovaries? Are hourly wages set according to estrogen levels?

It’s preposterous, insulting and indefensible.

I know people who can recall a time when a male employee announcing his marriage got a bonus and a pat on the back, and a woman doing the same got a layoff slip.

Six provinces have had pay equity legislation for years: Manitoba (1986), Ontario (1987), Prince Edward Island (1988), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (1989) and Quebec (1996).

To give credit where it is due, in this province pay equity among members of the public service was promised by Brian Peckford’s government in the 1980s, but that promise was rescinded by Clyde Wells’ government during the recession of the early 1990s. Danny Williams’ administration finally bridged the gap with public sector employees in 2006, allocating $24 million to settle the egregious bill.

But for many women working in the private sector, wage gaps remain.

The idea of bringing in pay equity legislation last surfaced in a private member’s bill tabled by NDP MHA Gerry Rogers on March 8, 2017. Minister Siobhan Coady said in December the government is studying how to implement it. (Here’s a hint: you’re not reinventing the wheel.)

This month in Iceland (pop. 323,000) — where 48 per cent of Parliamentarians are women — it became illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, and companies with 25 or more employees have to demonstrate they aren’t breaking that law or else pay fines.

As the Conference Board of Canada notes in its report on the issue: “Eliminating the wage gap between men and women is critical to achieving inclusive and cohesive societies and to sustaining economies. Women’s work should not be undervalued, nor should women’s skills be underutilized.”

That may sound like stating the obvious.

But until pay equity is the law in this province, some women will have no reassurance that they aren’t being shafted financially as they toil away on the job next to men doing the very same work.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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