On Wednesday April 20, the Superior Court of Justice released an historic decision. It confirmed what ETFO members knew all along: Bill 115 violated our right to free and fair collective bargaining as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Working in solidarity with other unions, we filed a Charter challenge in October 2012. Our members became the front line for defending the rights of all working people in Ontario.
This decision is a huge victory for ETFO and the broader labour movement. The proudest times of my seven years as president were the times we stood together to protect our democratic rights.
At the same time, I am reminded how much more we have to do. April 16 was Equal Pay Day here in Ontario. Why April 16? Given the current 30 percent pay gap, a woman has to work 3 1/2 months into the new year (until April 16) to earn what a man does by December 31 of the previous year. Put another way, it takes Ontario women 15 1/2 months to earn what Ontario men do in 12. Women who are racialized, Indigenous, migrant and immigrant, LGBTQ or living with a disability have to work into May and June. These are pretty sobering statistics for 2016.
This has been a very long struggle. In 1946, one of ETFO’s predecessor organizations, the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario, took the concept of equal pay to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF). OTF eventually passed an equal pay policy and in 1951 Ontario passed the Fair Remuneration for Female Employees Act, the first equal pay legislation in the country.
In 1976, the Pay Equity Coalition (of which teachers were important members) was formed to lobby for changes in the law to eliminate unequal pay. More than a decade of work resulted in the passage of the Pay Equity Act in 1988. Teachers celebrated this legislative victory along with their sisters. Despite seemingly gender-neutral salary grids, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that teachers achieved equal pay.
Incredibly, the fight for pay equity continues to this day, complicated by governments’ commitment to austerity and market-driven economics.
This spring, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released Making Women Count: The Unequal Economics of Women’s Work. According to the report, the share of the national economy going to workers has fallen as an increasing share of the economy is made up of wealth versus wages. For women, who are already overrepresented in informal, vulnerable or precarious work, these losses are even greater.
At the end of their report, the CCPA notes, “The key to addressing inequality lies in understanding and remaking the social, political and economic forces that contribute to it.”
What do we need to do locally, nationally and internationally in order to close the wage gap between men and women? What are some of the social and economic factors at play, and how do policy makers address them in concrete terms? Making Women Count examines the forces that contribute to systemic inequality and considers the strong link between austerity, market-driven economics and women’s inequality.
We all know that good jobs lift people out of poverty. ETFO continues to work with the Pay Equity Coalition and with our sisters and brothers in the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress to demand equal pay for equal work. We work to raise the minimum wage for all Ontarians through the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. As a union with 78,000 members, we are powerful. We are committed to social justice. It is only right that we lend our strength to those who are fighting for equal pay and respect. It is only right that we continue to fight for democracy, equity and human rights.
- Sam Hammond