BWSS and Hundreds of Others Release Letter to BC Government: We Need Pay Equity
Today, over 100 organizations and individuals have released an open letter to the BC government calling for the enactment of intersectional pay equity legislation before the next provincial election.
BC urgently needs an intersectional Pay Equity Act that enshrines in law the responsibility of all employers to identify and close gaps in pay for work of equal value.
According to a 2018 study by Statistics Canada, BC has the largest gender pay gap in Canada, with women in BC making, on average, 18.6 per cent less than men.
BC remains as one of four provinces (along with Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland) that does not have pay transparency or pay equity laws.
Pay equity is a human rights issue, and a matter of substantive equality. All levels of government must eliminate systemic discrimination in the workplace by ensuring equal pay for equal work through pay transparency and pay equity legislation.
Last year, the BC government began the process of developing pay transparency legislation. Importantly, pay transparency legislation is distinct from pay equity legislation.
Without pay equity to ensure that employers actually change their pay practices and provide equal pay for work of equal value, pay transparency only provides data and information about employment practices. With only pay transparency legislation, there are limited actions that can be pursued to rectify the performance of employers.
Put another way, pay transparency discloses the issue; pay equity addresses it.
As we write in our joint letter, “While we appreciate that pay transparency plays a role in promoting equity, your legislation will take no direct action to protect and advance the right to equitable pay. Instead, it will continue to tacitly place the burden on women and other equity-deserving groups to contend with their employers for basic fairness.”
This is especially urgent given the province’s obligations under the federal United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and numerous Reconciliation Agreements with Indigenous nations. Across Canada, Indigenous women and men with a high school diploma typically earn between 15 and 19 percent less than their non-Indigenous peers.
The ongoing impacts of colonialism means that, overall, the earned incomes for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are 70 percent that of other people in Canada.
According to an analysis of the most recent available census data on Indigenous women specifically, Indigenous women working full-time, full year earn an average of 35 percent less than non-Indigenous men, or 65 cents to the dollar. The wage gap between Indigenous peoples and settler society represents a disparity in Canada’s legislative intent and hollow reconciliatory words versus a commitment to action.
Pay transparency by itself is simply not enough. Thus, our joint letter puts forward the call for pay equity to be enacted, in addition to pay transparency, and that all new pay equity legislation be inclusive and intersectional.
Our joint letter also puts forward that pay transparency legislation include the following 8 minimum elements that build toward pay equity: a robust enforcement regime; transparency in all aspects of compensation; broad application across the economy; a data system built to support pay equity; a single interface for public access to pay data; disaggregation of data for deeper analysis; worker protections as well as transparency; and a new Pay Equity Office to lead implementation.
What is the Gender Pay Gap?
Women and people who are marginalized because of their gender are being systematically underpaid for work of equal value, compared to the wages their male counterparts earn. This is especially true for those who are additionally marginalized. The free market has not, and will not, correct this on its own, and we need laws to address this entrenched discrimination.
Indigenous women, Black women, racialized women, newcomer immigrant/refugee women, women with disabilities, and trans and two spirit people face compounding discrimination in employment, and the greatest barriers to pay equity.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation has found that only 27 percent of women and gender-diverse people report being paid equally to their peers. Census data shows that Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer immigrant/refugee women working full-time, full year earn significantly less than white people of all genders and less than racialized men. Specifically, racialized women make approximately 59.3 percent of what white men make in the workforce.
Racialized women are also most heavily concentrated in already underpaid, and often the lowest paying, jobs, especially the “5C’s” of caring, clerical, catering, cashiering, and cleaning.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has raised concerns about the high level of the pay gap in Canada and its disproportionate effect on low-income women, racialized women, and Indigenous women.
What is BWSS Doing to Advocate for Pay Transparency and Pay Equity?
When, the provincial government announced in March 2022 that it was beginning a consultation process on new pay transparency legislation, BWSS wrote to wrote to BC’s Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity to strongly support the development of pay transparency and pay equity legislation.
BWSS works from a feminist perspective to eliminate gender-based violence and to promote gender equity.
From our frontline work, we know that pay transparency and, more importantly, pay equity is critical to ensuring the safety of survivors of gender-based violence. Financial dependence is a significant contributor to gender-based violence.
The reality of the gender pay gap, even further exacerbated across race, means that Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized women are most likely to earn less than men in similar jobs, are most likely to be minimum wage earners in the province, and are most likely to retire with smaller pensions in older age – thus cementing a lifetime of the racial feminization of poverty.
In addition, unpaid caregiving responsibilities disproportionately fall on women, which further impacts economic security. All of this leaves survivors of violence with even fewer choices, often forcing them to remain in violent situations.
With this in mind, we wrote to Parliamentary Secretary Grace Lore about BC’s development of pay transparency and pay equity legislation. We believe that, as a guiding principle, any legislation must eliminate all pay inequity. This includes the structural inequality of women earning lower incomes than men for the same work, and the fact that women – especially racialized women – tend to be clustered at the bottom of lower-paid, minimum-wage jobs.
In our letter, we urged the provincial government to consider the following three key issues and benchmarks:
- Pay transparency legislation must be mandatory across all sectors, both public and private, and be subject to strong enforcement mechanisms and independent oversight. BC’s pay transparency legislation should include the minimum stipulations provided in Ontario’s pay transparency legislation, including requiring employers to include a salary range and benefits for all posted jobs, and prohibiting employers from punishing employees for disclosing their compensation. Furthermore, such legislation must prohibit employers from seeking any information about a job applicant’s previous compensation history, which reinforces the gender pay gap by limiting the earnings of women employees based on the status-quo of a history of under-compensation.
- Pay transparency legislation must enable thorough and comprehensive disaggregated reporting on an annual basis. Such reporting must accomplish the goal of providing meaningful statistics and robust data to allow for an intersectional analysis of an employer’s pay structure across a range of demographic characteristics and over time and across sectors.
- Pay transparency legislation must be followed by the development and introduction of pay equity legislation. Pay equity policies require employers to make plans to close the wage gap. This would require employers to collect and disclose wages based on job classes, determined based on factors required by the law such as skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. Legislation must require employers to compensate a job class based on marginalized genders at an equal level if it is lower than the cis-male job class. This would require a robust administrative and regulatory regime, including future legislation enabling penalties for any employer who does not take the appropriate steps to closer their gender (and other) pay gap.
In our letter, we also highlighted that, while pay transparency legislation is a step in the direction of gender equality, it alone absolutely does not address the systemic racialization and feminization of poverty.
This would require a whole-of-government approach to tackle a series of issues including:
- Unlivable social assistance, disability, and pension rates for survivors who are not in the formal, paid workforce, especially for those with disabilities and/or seniors.
- Systemic racial and gendered labour market discriminations, including employer harassment and wage theft, especially for Indigenous and Black women in the workforce.
- The lack of recognition of foreign credentials for newcomer immigrant/refugee women that continues to stratify newcomers into the lowest paid jobs. This precarity is magnified for migrants without full residency or citizenship status, and who routinely face further exploitation in the workforce.
- Reversing a long trend of economic restructuring towards austerity that continues to disproportionately impact racialized women and force them into underpaid, part-time, insecure, and precarious work, while also juggling unpaid care responsibilities.
This all must be a provincial priority.
We believe that addressing pay equity, and all forms of gender inequality, is central to eliminating gender-based violence. BWSS will continue to closely monitor, provide recommendations towards, and advocate for comprehensive and meaningful measures to ensure pay transparency, pay equity, and gender equity for all those marginalized by gender and other oppressions.