International Women

International Women’s Day March 8th 2010

The Harper Government Opposes Gender Equality, Women Demand Progress Not Reports…

Don Currie, Editor Focus on Socialism
March 8th 2010

The United Nations from March 1st  to 12th 2010 will conduct a 15th anniversary review of the implementation by member states of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA) adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995)   and the outcome of the Twenty-Third Special Session of the General Assembly on Gender Equality, Development and Peace (June 2000) . 

In preparation of the 15 year review the UN sent a UN Questionnaire   to member states requesting a progress report on implementation of the goals of the BDPA.

Canada’s response, compiled with strict oversight and control by the right wing Harper Conservative Minority Government,   is a carefully crafted document claiming “many positive stories” about progress for women in Canada. In spite of Conservative spin, the report is compelled to admit that for the majority of Canadian women in particular working class women, aboriginal women, immigrant women, single mothers and elderly women very little progress has been made since 1995 to rectify the second class economic and social status of Canadian women. 

The Government report to the UN pointedly evades discussing the lack of progress for the majority of Canadian women who work full or part time for wages and salaries or derive their income as self-employed workers dependent on contracts usually without health and pension benefits or EI protection.

The Report also evades discussing the record of the Harper minority Conservative Government of scuttling legislation for universal child care and replacing it with a paltry $100 a month child support system that does little to solve the child care dilemma of working mothers. The Harper Government, spurred on by the religious right has gradually withdrawn  government funding for women’s advocacy programs that protect women and children from rape and domestic violence and that promote racial and gender equality. The Harper Government is responsible for relegating Canada from the top five nations in the world on women’s rights and child care to 16th out of 112 countries surveyed support for women and children, wage equity and gender equality is still in free fall.   

The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (CFAIA) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) in a Three Part document entitled “Reality Check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fifteen Years On – A Canadian Civil Society Response”   debunks the Harper Government claims of progress on gender equality. The well documented CFAIA commentary sets the record straight with hard facts exposing the rosy view of the right-wing Harper Government regarding the real economic, political and social status of women in Canada in the first decade of the 21st century.

The CFAIA /CLC document must be read in its entirety.  Chapter Five, Women and the Economy is of special interest to women in the work force, comprising over 50% of all gainfully employed Canadians.

The following are some of the salient facts addressed in the CFAIA /CLC report that were pointedly left out of the Harper Government UN report.  

The CFAIA /CLC report points out that most of the economic and socials gains for women over the past decades have been primarily among upper middle class and professional women. 

The Government of Canada 2004 Pay Equity Task Force revealed that the majority of women are still highly concentrated in teaching, clerical, administrative, and sales and services jobs, and overwhelmingly predominate in the very lowest-paid occupations, such as child care workers, cashiers, and food services workers.

Both professional and working class women are still frozen out of many occupations.

Women in the work force as a whole continue to be underpaid for their work lagging behind men by more than 15%.

Women in better-paid occupations are mainly in health, education, and social services in the public sector. Very few women work in the higher paid unionized blue-collar occupations.

The gender gap in wages is not closing as the Harper Government claims. The Government measures the gender wage gap using a “dollar per hour” comparison.

A truer measure is annual earnings of full-time, full year workers, i.e. of workers in full-time jobs who work all year. The annual earnings indicator combines the impact of lower hourly wages with fewer weeks and hours worked over the year.

Annual earnings comparisons reveal that women earned just 70.5% as much as men in 2005. Women of colour earned only 64% as much as men and Aboriginal women earned 46% as much as men working full-time, full year. All workers – including part-time and part-year workers – women earned just 64.0% as much as men.

The dollar per hour comparison preferred by the Government of Canada still reveals a gender gap per hour worked. Women earned an average of $17.96 per hour compared to $21.43 for men in 2006, meaning that women earned, on average, 83.8% of the male hourly wage.

The Canadian gender pay gap is now the fifth greatest among 22 OECD countries somewhat greater than in the United States. In OECD countries the wage gap is 18% and in Canada 23% less than men in fulltime jobs.

The Harper Government ignored requests from the Government’s Standing Committee on the

Status of Women, and refused to implement the Pay Equity Task Force recommendations.

On March 12, 2009, the House of Commons adopted the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act (PSECA), as part of an omnibus bill entitled Budget Implementation Act 2009. The new law weakens the pay equity provisions in existing Canadian law, and replaces the current legislative framework for public sector workers. 

The Harper Government has not only failed to implement proactive pay equity legislation, it removed the right of public sector workers to access the equal pay provisions which do exist in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Harper and Flaherty introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act (PSECA) as part of the Budget Implementation Act, 2009. The legislation makes it more difficult to claim pay equity by redefining the notion of “female predominant” job groups requiring that women make up 70 per cent of workers in the group. It also redefines the criteria used to evaluate whether or not jobs are of “equal” value, by adding a reference to “market forces”.  Market forces that are the root cause of systemic discrimination.

The PSECA allows for pay equity to be bargained away. The Act transforms pay equity into an “equitable compensation issue” that must be dealt with at the bargaining table. Pay equity is a fundamental human right not to be traded away at a bargaining table. The PSECA  provides for a very bad negotiating process. There is:

•  no obligation on the employer to proactively review its pay practices and to provide the union with the relevant information;

•  no obligation to proceed with a joint pay equity assessment;

•  no clear definition of the new terms that are introduced with this Act and;

•  no time limit to provide equitable compensation.

The Act compels women to file complaints alone, without the support of their union. Under this new legislation, if pay equity is not achieved through the bargaining process, individual workers are permitted to file a complaint with the Public Service Labour Relations Board, but without their union’s support. In fact, this Act imposes a $50,000 fine on any union that would encourage or assist their own members in filing a pay equity complaint.(Our emphasis FOS)

The UN 2010 BDPA  review comes exactly 43 years after the Liberal Pearson Government was forced by a mass campaign by a coalition of women’s organizations to establish the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (RCSWC). The commission received 468 submissions. The report was presented to Parliament in 1970 and with the adoption of some 168 recommendations by 1980, was heralded as the dawning of the era of women’s equality in Canadian society.

Among working class women, who at the time constituted about 26% of the work force, there were high hopes that gender disparity in wages, full opportunities for all irrespective of their economic status to entry into all occupations, full equality of political, social and human rights for all women would be resolved.

Of course nothing of the sort happened. Some breakthroughs for working women were won in particular for professional women and some doors were pried open for women in higher education.

However the struggle of working class women continued and only made headway through the growth of unions in the public sector. It was the public sector unions that took up the struggle for the rights of working women where the RCSWC had failed. In particular organized labour took up the struggle for the rights women of colour, aboriginal women, immigrant women and single mothers.

The growth of the numbers of women in unions compelled some improvements in federal and provincial legislation. However the big issues of universal child care, pay equity, opening all trades, occupations and professions to women, opening up all avenues to higher education, and combating the stereotypical roles of women in society continue unresolved to this day.

On March 8th all working people honour the on- going struggle of women everywhere in the world for full equality of opportunity and rights without any impediments to their development as human beings.

In that struggle it is the organized labour movement, the militant mass movements of women and youth that are in the forefront.

The political parties of the left and in the first place the Communist Party of Canada that bear the responsibility of exposing the root cause of the double exploitation of women under capitalism. Women compelled to work for sub-standard wages and bear the major responsibility for caring for children are a source of vast profit to the employer classes.

That is why a wage movement is urgently needed; a wage movement that emblazons on its banner of struggle, the emancipation of women and all working people from the profit system and replacing the profit system with socialism, the only system that will truly emancipate women from all forms of gender bias.