Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wage Gap Widens Again for Women- Canada

Wage gap widens again

More effort needed to make the wage gap disappear.
Dateline: Tuesday, February 03, 2009
by Elsie Hambrook for the Moncton Times and Transcript

New figures released this month showed that the difference between the average wages of women and men — the pay gap — had worsened for the second year in a row in New Brunswick. No media covered the report, but some of us heard about it.

In 2008, New Brunswick women working full- or part-time earned on average $16.46 per hour and men, $19.16 per hour. That's a difference of over 14 percent. The previous year, women were closer to men's average earnings — a difference of 12.6 percent, and the year before that, better still, 12 percent.

As the Canadian Labour Congress awareness campaign put it last fall: "Hurry! 30 percent off Women's Labour — When They're Equal, the Savings Will be Gone!" and in fine print, "Valid for most workplaces without a union."

The Canadian picture is similar and also worsened in 2008. Canadian women earned 84 percent of what men earned, $19.43 per hour compared to $23.18 for men.

The pay gap has fluctuated a lot in the past, improving and worsening, but generally it has been improving since 1997, when there was a 20 percent difference in the average hourly earnings of New Brunswick male and female workers.

Converting the earnings to hourly pay is the fairer method of comparing women's and men's relative earnings. Sometimes another measure is used, comparing the annual salaries of full-time workers.

That measure is even more depressing: the gap now hovers around 25 percent. Decades ago, in the 1970s, it hovered around 35 percent. In 2006, women working full-time all year in New Brunswick earned 75 percent of men's average earnings.

Whatever way you measure it, why is there still such a difference, especially since women have as much education as men?

Margaret Mead had part of the answer. The famous anthropologist noted in her travels studying societies around the world, "There are villages in which men fish and women weave, and ones in which women fish and men weave. But in either village, the work done by men is valued higher than the work done by women."

That's what pay equity is about — correcting that traditional bias against whatever is "women's work." New Brunswick does not have pay equity, but there are interesting signs of movement to end the "women discount".

As the Canadian Labour Congress awareness campaign put it last fall: "Hurry! 30 percent off Women's Labour — When They're Equal, the Savings Will be Gone!" and in fine print, "Valid for most workplaces without a union."

Unionized women earned about 97 percent of unionized men's earnings in New Brunswick in 2008 — $22.41 per hour compared to $23.22 per hour. Non-unionized women earned on average 80 percent of non-unionized men's average earnings in New Brunswick in 2008: $13.98 compared to $17.50 per hour.

The current New Brunswick government's platform includes extending pay equity to the private sector through legislation. We should see action on that promise soon, given that there is an election next year. The provincial government said in last fall's throne speech that it is going ahead with a pay equity law applying to all of the public sector — including hospitals and schools.

It is also heartening to know that three occupations that are especially low paid and female-dominated, today as ever — workers in child care centres, transition houses and home support services — are receiving early attention, with unbiased job evaluations under way and, we presume, salary adjustments in the near future.

Pay equity is only part of the explanation. There are a variety of factors usually blamed for the persistent gap between women's and men's earnings.

One factor is the segregation of women and men in the workplace. Women have certainly entered law and medicine and a few other areas, but men have certainly not crossed over to many non-traditional occupations and women are even losing ground in some sciences, engineering and trades. The great majority of women are still found in teaching, health, sales, clerical or service occupations, a smaller range than where men are found.

And when governments adopt big-budget economic rescue packages, as is happening now, regard must be paid to whether spending will increase inequality or else we can only fear that the pay gap will worsen again in the future. When we need to spend to get out of a recession, there are many ways of doing it.

Which leads to another part of the reason behind the pay gap. Though most women are in the labour force — even most mothers and most lone mothers — society has not changed enough to accommodate family life. So women interrupt their careers more often than men, sometimes because of sexual harassment, discrimination against childbearing women, lack of access to child care services, violence and unequal division of labour in the home. More women work part-time and legislation surrounding part-time work make it easy to exploit.

To finish on a positive note, we also learned this month that in 2008, female Community College graduates of the previous year, who were working full-time, earned on average 13 percent less than male graduates in New Brunswick, an improvement over the previous year when the gap was 20 percent.

A similar survey of 2005 graduates had found a pay gap of more than 14 percent and in 1997, female graduates of the previous year were earning 19.5 percent less than male graduates.

Elsie Hambrook is the new Chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Her column on women's issues will appear in the Times & Transcript every Thursday. She may be reached via e-mail at the eddress below.

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