Even though women make up about half of the labour force, they continue to make 31.5 percent less than the average annual earnings of male workers – one of the largest reported gaps in the world. It amounts to a gendered wage penalty that is compounded by race, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity and ability. It is an economic price that women pay at every wage level, regardless of their age, education or occupation.
Now is the time to close the gender wage gap, and demand a stronger commitment to pay equity and overhaul outmoded labour laws to lift every worker out of poverty. As many as 50 percent of all workers are trapped in temporary, part-time and contract jobs. Women are over-represented in this vulnerable majority of workers, making up 70 percent of part-time workers and over 60 percent of the 1.7 million Ontarians who earn at or near the minimum wage.
Women workers who do not belong to a union are eight times more likely to earn poverty wages and half as likely to have a workplace pension. Unionized women receive an average pay boost of $7.83 an hour and benefit from better job security and workplace benefits. Laws guaranteeing the minimum wage, pay equity, maternity leave, and harassment free workplaces were all secured because of the work of trade unions. But these gains are under attack, and union concessions to bosses who demand two-tier wages, benefits and pensions make matters worse.
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Expansion and enforcement of pay equity legislation is important, but women won’t be able to reach their full economic potential without major improvements to employment standards, a $15 minimum wage and easier access to joining a union. The NDP should lead that effort, not just in Parliament and on the hustings, but in the streets and work places.