Report shows that Ford policies have cut women’s wages, widened gender pay gap in Ontario

PV staff  

A new report shows that the Ford government’s policies have resulted in real dollar wage cuts for workers in the broader public sector. The cuts affect a huge number of women workers, with the overall effect of widening the gender pay gap in Ontario.

The research was conducted by the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE). It notes that from 2017-2023, average wage growth of 27 percent across all industries outpaced inflation by nearly 7 percent. Despite this, workers in healthcare, education and social assistance faced real dollar wage cuts.

Those three industries account for more than 90 percent of the broader public sector workforce, and nearly one-third of all women in Ontario. While women in the rest of the economy improved their earnings relative to men, the wage erosion for public sector workers caused the province-wide gender wage gap to increase.

“This is an attack on women’s wages by Doug Ford,” said OCHU-CUPE secretary-treasurer Sharon Richer. “By restraining wages for public sector workers, the Ontario PCs are holding back progress for women.”

Richer said it appeared that the feminized labour of women in healthcare, social assistance and education was deemed less valuable by the Conservative government. She said it was unconscionable for the government to implement wage cuts for the “the women caring for patients, the elderly and other vulnerable members of our population.”

As of 2023, women across Ontario earned 87.2 cents for every dollar made by men, compared to 88 cents in 2018 when Ford was elected.

OCHU-CUPE’s report makes the case that the gendered impact of government policy is not only affecting women employees but is also negatively affecting the quality of public services with consequences for everyone.

For example, the government’s suppression of wages for hospital workers has made jobs in the sector less attractive compared to the rest of the economy, contributing to a deep staffing crisis.

Just prior to the Tories’ election in 2018, hospital service wages were $1.41 less than the all-industry average. After five years of the Ford government, those wages are now $4.41 behind, meaning a loss of $3 an hour or $5,850 annually.

The report also traces public sector wage trends back to the 1980s. While workers have faced alternating periods of government wage restraint with periods when wages have improved, there has since 2011 been a lengthy period of wage decline for workers in health, social assistance and education. These sectors represent 32 percent of all women workers in Ontario compared to only 9 percent of men.

As capitalist governments continue to attack working people’s hard-won rights and gains, women workers are among the hardest hit including through the widening of the gender pay gap. Conservative governments like Ford’s have accelerated these attacks in the wake of the COVID crisis.

Ontario is poised to enact new workplace legislation (Bill 149, Working for Workers Four Act) which the Tories claim includes a pay transparency provision, compelling employers to prove they are in compliance with pay equity laws.

However, the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition warns that Bill 149 does not provide anything close to what is required and is “one of the weakest pay transparency laws in Canada.” It calls Bill 149 “a significant retreat from the full Pay Transparency Act … won in 2018,” noting that the newly elected Ford government blocked that act from coming into force.

This year, the coalition is marking April 16 as “Equal Pay Day,” which symbolizes how far into the next year the average woman must work – an extra four and a half months – in order to earn what the average man earned in the previous year.

[Photo: Ontario Equal Pay Coalition]

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