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New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity
In April 2010, the Coalition was informed by Status of Women Canada (SWC) that funding for activities would not be renewed. This was despite the fact that the Coalition had fulfilled all funding requirements and that one of its projects was considered by SWC to be one of the ten best projects in the country.
In November 2006, the Harper government had cut funding to SWC by approximately 40%, compelling the closure of 12 of its 16 regional offices. (SWC is the federal body responsible for women’s issues.) At the same time, the Conservative government redrafted SWC’s funding criteria so that advocacy groups and certain service providers were ineligible for funding.
The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity had requested financing from SWC for a project aimed at improving women’s wages and distributing information on workplace discrimination. The project’s goals were to support New Brunswick women in developing leadership skills and in having a stronger presence in the democratic and economic activities of their communities.
The Heritage Minister at the time, Bev Oda, complained that instead of directly helping women with services "there was a lot of lobbying groups, there was a lot of advocacy."
“Evidently, their decision is based on ideology, not on the value of the project or on the group’s ability to reach the objectives,” noted Denise Savoie, Francophone Vice-Chair of the Coalition. “If today, women’s status is improved, it is because they insisted that their rights be respected. Think of the right to vote, the right to own property, to take maternity leave. We’ve made great gains, and there are many other gains needed before we reach equality. The government should be an ally in our efforts, instead of being afraid of us,” said Savoie.
The Coalition’s past chair, Huberte Gautreau, was blunt in her assessment: “The problem is that the Harper government does not support pay equity.”
In 1998, as head of the right-wing National Citizen’s Coalition, Harper declared that pay equity was a rip-off, adding: “…the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law".
Eight years later, in January 2006, five days before Canadians elected his minority Conservative government and just three weeks before he took the oath of office, Harper made the following commitment to the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA):
“Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has to do more to meet its international obligations to women's equality. If elected I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women."
Yet, in 2009, the Harper government adopted the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act as part of the budget bill. Instead of making sure that predominantly female jobs receive the same pay as predominantly male jobs of the same value, the Equitable Compensation Act relegates pay equity to bargaining and to the market. It also includes up to $50,000 in fines for unions that help or encourage their members to lodge a pay equity complaints.
In recent years, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity’s role has become more important as Canadian women across the country face increasing discrimination and barriers to pay equity. Statistics Canada (2010) reports that nationally, women working full-time in 2008 earned on average 71.3% of what men earned (see their PDF Report, p.13). The pay gap was greater for women with low levels of education, at 51.5% of men’s income, as compared to men with the same education levels. For university-educated women, the gap was 68.3% as much as men (see their PDF Report, p.15).
In March 2011, the New Brunswick government announced that they will abolish the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, an agency that advises the government on policies that affect women and provides services to women of the province.
The Coalition was founded because of persistent and widespread inequality for women’s wages in New Brunswick and across the country. Five years after the Coalition was founded, the 2004 report by the federal Pay Equity Task Force, the first comprehensive review of federal pay equity legislation since it received Royal Assent in 1977, noted that “women, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities (...) suffer from persistent wage inequity” (p.46-47). In New Brunswick, according to a 2004 study by economist Ather Akbari (download study PDF), 80% of the provincial hourly wage gap is due to discrimination. Moreover, Statistics Canada reports that in 2008, women’s average annual earnings in New Brunswick were worse than the national average, at 65% of men’s (see PDF of the Report, p.7).
Canada’s pay equity gap is now the fifth greatest in OECD countries, larger than that of the wage gap in the United States.
- 1998: Founding of the Coalition for Pay Equity
- 2004: The Coalition for Pay Equity lobbies for the Pay Equity Legislation, as a member of the Pay Equity Network
- November 29, 2006: Government cuts funding to SWC which effectively amounts to a ban on advocacy work related to women’s equality
- 2009: New Brunswick’s Pay Equity Act 2009 is introduced by Mary Schryer, Minister for the Status of Women
- March 2010: The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity is informed that their funding is to be cut by the federal government.
- March 2011: The New Brunswick government announces budget cuts that abolish the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women
Role or Position
The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity (formally known as the Women’s Union for Pay Equity) was established by the Fédération des dames d’Acadie in May 1998, and has operated independently since 1999. The Coalition advocates for legislation on equal pay for work of equal or comparable value, relating specifically to the value of jobs traditionally and principally held by women in both the public and private sectors. With a membership of more than 700 individuals and over 80 groups, the Coalition campaigned for New Brunswick’s Pay Equity Act (see PDF) which came into force on April 1st, 2010.
Implications and Consequences
- Equality: The combined loss of the funding for the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity and of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women means that women in New Brunswick are weaker in their fight for equality.
- Equality: The government's opposition to supporting the work of women’s groups in New Brunswick widens a national trend towards neglecting or undermining work by independent agencies that advance women’s equality rights. The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), the Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail (CIAFT), the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), are only a few of the organizations that have condemned the attacks through defunding by the federal government on women’s advocacy work. *
- Equality: The trend of opposing work for women’s equality rights is also playing out in the public sector. The 2009 Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act risks eliminating women’s right to pay equity in the federal public service. Disputes are no longer resolved by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the value of work is now partly assessed according to “market forces”. This shifts women’s rights to pay equity from a basic human rights framework to a market-based one and undermines women’s work for equity.
- Free speech: As government support for advocacy work by women’s groups is reduced considerably, with groups that focus on equality rights and pay equity in particular appearing to have been targeted, a demoralizing message is sent to all women who struggle for equality rights in Canada: This government does not support your right to equality, nor your right to advocate for greater equality.
- Equality: Canada continues to slip in world rankings for pay equity, continuing its fall between 2004 and 2009 from 7th to 25th in the world rankings, according to the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index.
* The defunding of SWC along with funding criteria changes also resulted in depletion of resources for other agenices dedicated to women's equality, including the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, Womenspace, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, le Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, Réseau des tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec, and Action travail des femmes.