All About Pay Equity

March 31, 2021

ONA has been at the forefront of the fight for equal pay for work of equal value for more than 30 years. Since the inception of Ontario’s Pay Equity Act in 1987, ONA has fought to achieve pay equity for its members. But what exactly is pay equity and why is it important? We spoke with Andrea Sobko, Legal Counsel and Pay Equity Specialist for ONA, to learn more.

“Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal value,” explains Andrea. “It is a fundamental human right that is protected under Ontario’s Pay Equity Act, as well as numerous international human rights laws that Canada has ratified.”

Pay Equity versus Equal Pay for Equal Work

Andrea says that the concept of pay equity is often confused with equal pay for equal work. The difference? Pay equity requires that jobs usually performed by women be valued and compared to jobs usually performed by men. Equal pay for equal work is the idea that if a woman and a man are doing the same or similar job with the same responsibilities, they should be paid the same.

What many people do not realize is that the difference in the employment earnings of men and women is still approximately 30 per cent, both provincially and nationally. Even worse, it has been stagnant for more than 30 years.

“This is an indicator of gender inequality in the labour market,” explains Andrea. “The gap substantially increases when gender-based discrimination intersects with other forms of discrimination, including those often experienced by Black, Indigenous, and other women of colour; immigrant and migrant women; women with disabilities; elderly women; and 2SLGBTQI+ women.”

Women, including nurses, personal support workers, and other front-line health-care workers, have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Women – especially racialized women working in low-wage sectors who often provide many of the economy’s essential services – have also faced the greatest economic burdens of the pandemic, including job loss in women-majority sectors such as retail, childcare, and hospitality that were forced to shut down,” she says.

When asked why the gender pay gap is still a problem today, Andrea says that one key driver of the gender pay gap is occupational segregation, which is that women and men tend to be concentrated into different occupations.

Women-dominated professions, like teaching and nursing, tend to be underpaid because of their association with care work. Andrea explains that care work is viewed as a “natural skillset” that women have and are expected to be performed for free.

Meanwhile, men tend to dominate professions revolving around finance, engineering and technology. Even though they have similar training and educational requirements as the female-dominated professions, they are paid more. Andrea says that research has shown that as women enter and dominate a profession, wages become devalued.

Closing the gender pay gap may seem like an impossible task, but Andrea believes it is possible. She says a complex problem such as this will require a multi-faceted solution. Some of her recommendations are listed below.

  • Implement accessible and enforceable pay equity legislation for all workers, including non-unionized workers in small workplaces.

  • Require employers to apply the principles of Gender-Based Analysis (GBA+) in their compensation practices and policies.

  • Implement Ontario’s Pay Transparency Act immediately – which was to be effective as of January 1, 2019 but the Ford government placed it on hold indefinitely.

  • Recognize and challenge traditional gender stereotypes of “women’s work” and “men’s work .”

  • Implement a national, affordable, and accessible childcare program.

  • Increase public funding for eldercare.

  • Invest in the care economy.

ONA continues to fight for the most vulnerable women by seeking to ensure that pay equity is maintained for women in the proxy sector. Recently, in October 2020, ONA, along with the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU), litigated against nursing homes and the Ontario government to attain pay equity compliance in the nursing home sector.

Andrea says that in the home-care sector, ONA is bringing forward the critical issue of the union’s involvement in pay equity maintenance negotiations in a case that will be heard by Ontario’s Divisional Court in May 2021. ONA is also doing work in the hospital sector by continuing to negotiate a centralized pay equity plan, which will apply to all participating hospitals once finalized.

“In all areas of health care, ONA has been fighting against wage discrimination by challenging employers to maintain pay equity compliance and taking the necessary steps when they do not,” she says.

Andrea Sobko, Legal Counsel and ONA’s Pay Equity Specialist