Pay equity gap shows how much remains undone

There is no denying the trajectory of women’s rights in western society has been that of a steady rise in fortune. The suffrage movement is often seen as a starting point and it has been 99 years since the right to vote was granted to women across Canada - Manitoba preceded that by two years and Quebec only extended the right provincially in 1940.  If one takes a long view of history it is a remarkably quick series of events, but there is much more to the struggle for rights and equality than the right to vote.  Pay equity is one area that has been particularly stubborn in resisting change which is why New Democrats brought that issue to the House recently.


After the election, the government attracted a lot of attention when cabinet was drawn along equal gender lines.  Criticism about the importance of the roles given to women was muted by the notion that this was a positive development and symbolic of what a group tasked with decision making should look like.  With any luck, the makeup of cabinet will be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to closing the equity gap in Canada and the next logical step to take is with pay equity.


To move towards that goal, New Democrats used an opposition day motion calling on the federal government to do everything it can to tackle the unacceptable wage gap between men and women.  The motion also included the creation of a special committee to conduct hearings and put forward a plan to implement a proactive federal pay equity regime.  Without those specifics the motion would have lacked teeth.  Their inclusion prescribes a course of action.


There are strong and compelling reasons to put significant effort into ensuring that work of equal value receives equal pay.  Most people will admit that this is not an earth shattering notion and really just amounts to applying some common sense to how people are paid. 


It is well established that women are every bit as able as men.  Even in rigorous physically demanding positions, such as those performed by members of the military or emergency responders, women continue to prove they are just as capable as men.  Again, this should be no surprise.  If you’re looking for a surprise consider that women still make 23% less - on average - than men while performing the same jobs in Canada. Another is that Canada is trailing well behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to pay equity. 


Clearly something more than acknowledging the problem is needed.  We have understood this challenge for years and that understanding is not changing the outcomes.  That is why part of our motion recognizes pay equity as a right.  Considering it as a right encourages people to change their thinking on the pay inequity which may help change the outcome for a large portion of our workforce. 


The motion passed despite opposition from the Conservatives who tried to gut the text and change the intent with amendments.  When their amendments were defeated, they chose not to vote for the motion.  At the end of the day, their support wasn’t needed and now we have a commitment to base our progress upon.