Let’s Do to Wage Inequality What We Did to Drunk Driving

Women earn less than men do – sometimes even when they’re doing the same job. This is disgraceful, and it’s one of the reasons my union partnered with Ottawa Life to look at how women are treated in the workplace. Unequal treatment of females is rampant in the private sector, though some companies show true leadership on this issue. But as many workers in Ottawa know, wage inequality is also a fact of life in the public sector.

This has to be fixed. We need to make the exploitation of women by employers – both public and private – unacceptable. This is particularly true of government, which should be leading by example.

Perhaps it’s time to launch a campaign so that we view wage inequality in the same light we now view drinking and driving.

Drinking and driving was once standard practice. Thankfully, today, it is not. But that did not happen overnight. It took a lot of work to change the public’s mind on this issue. We had to educate people on the harm drunk driving causes. We had to educate people who serve alcohol, whether in a bar or at home, that they are responsible if someone drinks too much and then gets behind the wheel. We now shun drunk drivers and penalize them severely. As we are often reminded, friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

Let’s mount a similar campaign about wage inequality. Let’s educate the public that wage inequality is harmful. Let’s punish employers that pay unequal wages. Let’s get the government to crack down on offenders. And let’s change public attitudes about wage inequality.

Premier Kathleen Wynne could take concrete steps to help women achieve equitable pay in both the private and public sectors.

She could raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as many great activists are demanding. Women are over-represented in low-wage jobs, so bringing up the minimum wage would help women most.

She could get serious about enforcing the Pay Equity Act. Union women have made decent progress on this, but most non-union women have no real way to enforce their rights. Wynne should help them unionize. At the very least she should make employers obey the law.

She could make “equal pay for equal work” the law in Ontario. Women are over-represented in part-time, temporary, and temp agency jobs, which often pay less than permanent full-time jobs. If two people are doing the same work, they deserve the same pay.

Most important, she should stop saying she cares about fair pay for women while actively cutting wages for women in the public sector. This is effectively what is happening when Premier Wynne decries the “Gender Wage Gap” in society, only to turn around and punish women working for government and its agencies.

By hurting women in the public sector, Premier Wynne is attacking the part of the economy where women have made the most progress towards wage equality. Her behaviour simply can’t be justified. It is true hypocrisy.

We’ve made a lot of progress as a society in educating the public and discouraging drunk driving. It’s time for a similar campaign on wage inequality. Friends don’t let friends pay women less.

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas is president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.