Equal Pay Day? – Beacause it’s 2016!

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This year, the Equal Pay Coalition cites April 19 as Equal Pay Day to demonstrate that women must work the equivalent of 15.5 months to earn the same average salary of every man. Women earn less than men in just about every part of the globe. Sexism is one reason. But there are many other variables to consider. Some researchers have noticed women who hold the same education levels as men seem to work less hours than men.

Despite all the gains the women’s movement has made over the past 50 years, the pay gap between men and women is still very large. While estimates vary, the Globe and Mail found that Canadian women may earn as little as 69 cents compared to every dollar a man makes.

Why is there such a big difference between amount of money men and women earn? In a legal framework, women are fully equal to men in the eyes of the law. It is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire, discipline, terminate, deny training, demote, fail to promote or harass someone on the basis of their gender.

Men’s attitudes towards working women has changed considerably over the last 80 years. In a poll conducted in Canada in 2010, 80% did not agree with the statement “a women’s place is in the home.” Back in 1936, only 18% disagreed with this statement. In 1967, it was 56%. Women have also made up the majority of students in Canadian universities since 1991. In 1971, women made up only 32% of Canadian university students.

The more education a woman has, the smaller the pay gap. The pay gap for women who are enrolled in professional careers is much smaller in comparison to men and women who hold non-professional or “blue collar” occupations. BUT THERE IS STILL A GAP!

Age is also a factor. In Great Britain, there is very small wage gap between men and women under the age of 30. But things start to change once women get older. Women who begin to have children and start a family are more likely to work in a job that has less hours and more flexible hours. A highly qualified doctor, after having a child, will be more likely to start a family practice than work in the emergency ward in a downtown hospital. A highly qualified lawyer who works in the city’s top corporate law firm who works 90 hour weeks will be more likely to find a job at a company and serve as their in-house counsel.

A group of students at Ryerson University conducted a study to see if there is a difference between the number of hours worked between men and women. Data was pulled from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, which was published in December 2015. The research team compared the number of hours worked between 31,000 men and 29,000 women. The researchers discovered men on average worked six hours more than women do in a week. Men worked 39 hours compared to women who worked only 33 hours. However this discrepancy in hours based on gender cannot always be attributed to choice – in some cases a full-time or 40 hour/week job is simply not an available option.

The findings in this project sheds some light on our understanding of the wage gap between men and women. Given that we have found that men on average work over 6 hours more per week than women (by choice or not), it may not be surprising that men, on average, also earn more than women. However, further research into why women work less than men would be insightful.

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“All those burgers, all those fries…”

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“We want wages supersized!” That was just one of our many chants last April 15 when SEIU Healthcare joined its sisters and brothers around the world to ask McDonald’s to set an example by providing a living wage to its employees.

This year, we’re at it again, but this time the #Fightfor15 protest takes place on April 14. Why do we do it? “We’re standing with our Sisters and Brothers across North America and around the world who share our belief that all workers deserve a living wage. What started in 2014 as a grass-roots initiative to raise awareness for low-wage fast food workers in the US has grown into an international rally across over 300 cities in over 40 countries,” said SEIU Healthcare president Sharleen Stewart. “We’re here to stand for working people so that everyone can earn a fair living. It starts by setting the example for others and that’s what we want this multi-billion dollar company to do.”

McDonald’s takes pride in leading the pack, setting the example. Just look at one of their current television commercials; they are either telling the story of how they value and trust their young employees, or they are extolling the virtues of buying locally – by sourcing their ingredients from Canadian farmers only. If you look at their webpage, you will see they have their own charity – Ronald McDonald House, conserve energy, package responsibly for global sustainability, provide scholarships to their employees, sponsor Olympic athletes and kids’ hockey and yada, yada, yada, all within the realm of corporate responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, this is great stuff, but this is a matter of corporate image not values. How about providing your workers with a living wage? That would really get my admiration.

McDonald’s, clearly you like to be an industry leader, not a follower, so step up and set the trend, one that your competitors and other minimum wage employers will have to follow. I dare you. No, I double dog dare you!

If you are interested in joining our #Fightfor15, here’s how you can get involved.

Join us at McDonald’s Canada corporate head office, 1 McDonald’s Place, Toronto, ON, from 11:30-12:30 p.m. on April 14.

Tweet your comments using the hashtags #FightFor15 or #Fastfoodglobal.

A great announcement and a great day…but now what?

April 29, 2014 was a special day. Two groups of people that don’t normally spend a lot of time together packed a large room in the Toronto Reference Library: personal support workers (PSWs) and politicians.

“Today I wish to pay special respect to those who work in community and homecare,” said the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Deb Matthews, to the PSWs who had made the trip. “The bottom line is you’re not paid enough.”

As a homecare PSW in Ontario for more than 20 years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of changes. Throughout the years, we went from making more money for less work, to a declining progression of making less money for more work.

The main reason is no pay increase in years, while everything else has sky-rocketed, such as gas, car insurance, repair and maintenance, and this is just to get out to work. Then there is rent, mortgage, food, uniform, and often child care, just to mention a few essentials. – Carmen Barnwell, PSW from Oakville

Minister Matthews and her staff had invited unions and professional associations to attend a big announcement about homecare funding. The government was hinting that it would be a raise to go directly to homecare workers.

A sea of purple filled the room. Minister Matthews herself wore a mauve dress as a nod to the colours of SEIU Healthcare, the union that has been lobbying to fix the homecare system for over 20 years. Many of the PSWs in attendance were nervous and excited to see if their work on the “Sweet $16” campaign was going to make change.

John Newman, a PSW client, spoke on stage, sitting in his wheelchair. He teared up saying he “didn’t look forward to [his] future” before starting homecare. His wife Shirley said that John’s PSW takes such good care not only of him, but her as well by relieving her “of a lot of thinking and worrying.”

Before making their announcement, both Minister Matthews and Finance Minister Charles Sousa took some time to share their stories about homecare workers. “You make us all so very, very proud” said Charles Sousa to the PSWs in purple shirts. And Deb Matthews played the Walk-a-day video she did with PSW Juliette Chesney from Milton, Ontario, who was also in the crowd.

The Minister spoke about a SEIU Healthcare PSW from Hamilton. She said: “Last year, Rachel made $16,000. She’s counted among the working poor. She’d make a lot more money working in long-term care or in a hospital.”

Then, the Minister gave details. She promised that all publicly-funded homecare and community care personal support workers in Ontario would get a raise of $1.50 retroactive to April 1, 2014, regardless of whether or not the Liberal budget were to pass. The room erupted in celebration.

Since then, an election has been called for June 12, 2014. Deb Matthews has repeated that the $1.50 across-the-board raise will be given to all Ontario publicly-funded homecare and community care PSWs. But with election campaigns in full swing, no one knows yet exactly when or how that money will be paid out. The rest of the items Minister Matthews promised depend on the outcome of the election on June 12.

Tim Hudak recently said a PC government would cancel planned raises to homecare PSWs. SEIU Healthcare is calling on Andrea Horwath’s NDP to match or surpass the historic measures for homecare workers promised by the Liberal government.

Sweet $16 is a platform to advocate for several key changes to homecare, but the compensation issue stands out. All political parties should commit to immediate raises for homecare PSWs and working hard to fix the many issues faced by the sector, for the betterment of both the workers and their dear clients.

G.W.

$16/hour minimum for homecare PSWs is a question of need, not just worth

While a group of about 80 personal support workers (PSWs) were talking about SEIU Healthcare’s “Sweet $16” campaign at a conference in Toronto in early March, a woman stood up to make a very important point.

“My only issue,” she said “is only saying that we deserve a $16 per hour minimum wage. We really need it. I can’t afford to live like this anymore.”

In Ontario, unlike PSW work in other sectors such as long-term care, which pays an average of $20/hour, homecare work currently pays far less than what the PSWs both need and deserve.

Chrystal is a single mom who relies on subsidized childcare to afford to go to work. Those are her own words. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work—especially not for healthcare workers who put their heart and soul into keeping people comfortable at home. Chrystal should be able to work full-time, reliable hours at a decent wage, raise her son, and maybe save a little on the side. But that’s not how it is right now.

She provides her services to people in their own homes because she believes that rather than be forced into retirement or long-term care homes, people “should be able to stay where they are comfortable.”

Watch homecare PSW Chrystal talk about her work and what $16/hour would mean to her:

While homecare PSWs do a lot of physical and technical work in the home to monitor and maintain clients’ health, they also provide emotional support and help with social isolation. Many visits start off with a cup of tea or a chat, and sometimes their PSW is the only person a client sees all day or week.

You can see that Chrystal believes in the work she does. She knows her fellow PSWs care, too: “I think homecare workers have their heart in homecare for a reason and that is to help people have a quality of life.”

The only provincial standard for homecare wages is that PSWs must be paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Especially when taking into account the fact that most companies don’t properly reimburse for travel time and distance, or guarantee hours paid, this is not nearly enough.

A $16/hour floor would be a good start, but homecare PSWs and their advocates will need to push for parity with PSW work in the long-term care and hospital sectors.

Higher pay is better for the workers, it’s better for the clients, and it’s better for all Ontarians who will be able to attract and retain skilled PSWs in homecare. And we will all likely need their services one day.

G.W.