Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pay equity legislation in Alberta

Two Tuesdays ago was International Women’s Day and two interesting reports were released. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Oxfam released “Making Women Count: The Unequal Economics of Women’s Work”. This report asserts that gender inequality is an important contributory factor to economic inequality. The nub of the report is this:
Education alone is not sufficient to overcome discrimination in wages and employment; clearly other forces are at play. Key among them are the distribution of unpaid work, the undervaluing of work in predominantly female fields, the concentration of men and women in different fields of work, and the often unspoken social norms that see men offered higher wages and rates of promotion than women from the very beginning of their working lives. (p. 2)
This led nicely into a Parkland Institute report that examines what Alberta can do about gender-based economic inequality. “Equal Worth: Designing Effective Pay Equity Laws for Alberta” follows up on a 2015 report entitled “The Alberta Disadvantage: Gender, Taxation and Income Inequality.” Alberta has the largest gendered income gap (41%) in Canada.

Alberta’s human rights laws precludes discrimination on the basis of gender (i.e., you cannot pay male and female servers different wages). But Alberta has no laws requiring employers to pay workers the same wage for work of equal worth such as pipefitters and child-care workers. (Note I just made up that example; it may not be accurate). This matter because of the gendered segregation of Alberta’s labour force (i.e., there often are not male wages to offer comparators in some occupations.

The Parkland report takes a holistic look at wage inequity and makes a number of recommendations to enable women to achieve economic parity with men. These include affordable childcare, pay equity legislation and workplace practices, and tax reform. The report does a good job of explaining the ripple effect of lower wages for women through various aspects of their lives in ways that basically mean women earn about half of what men do.

The report also does a good job of unpacking what pay equity laws might looks like. This provides a useful yardstick for evaluating whatever policies or legislation the Status of Women Ministry may eventually enact. Section 5 of the report also examines how federal and provincial tax structures create a disincentive for women to participate in employment, one that might be attenuated by access to low-cost daycare (an important plank in the New democrats’ election platform).

-- Bob Barnetson


  1. I recently read a headline that claimed that as women finally break into some STEM industries in greater numbers, the average income goes down. (skipped reading the article because I was supposed to be studying). It seems to me that the value has never been about pipefitters vs childcare, but men against women. We women can demand the equality all we want but until men demand it too, and in great numbers, I'm not sure much will change, even with laws in place.

    1. Certainly there is something to the so-called ghettoization of occupations: as women increase their representations in an occupation, the average wages appear to decline. That suggests it is more about gender-based discrimination than any inherent value in an occupation.