Recognizing undervalued and unseen work

On this Labour Day, METRAC wants to pay tribute to all low-paid and unpaid work done by women and gender non-conforming people. Though the percentage of women in the workforce has generally increased over the past three decades, the fact remains that women and gender non-conforming folks face many employment barriers due to historical and social injustices. Also, the unpaid labour of women and gender non-conforming people remains largely invisible and unrecognized. Thankfully, there are campaigns fighting to right the wrongs faced in the workforce, such as Fight for $15 and Fairness. In this blog post, we will explore the gender-wage gap and the ‘Fight for 15 and Fairness’ demands to push back against precarious work. We will also acknowledge the different ways women and gender non-conforming people’s unpaid labour benefits society.

Recent research shows that the gender-wage gap is still a major social inequality issue that persists despite years of labour and feminist activism. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a woman’s average earning in a full-time, full-year job is still $0.72 for every dollar earned by men. This also affects younger women; women aged 25 to 34 with a post-secondary education degree earn 12% less than men in the same category. It’s important to note that women who have been traditionally disadvantaged in the labour market face the ill effects of the gender-wage gap more profoundly than others, such as Indigenous women, racialized women and women with disabilities. Furthermore, Transgender individuals and gender-non-conforming folks face more discrimination, harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Women are also more likely to work in part-time, precarious work positions.

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A recently released report by the Ontario Government’s Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee identifies three root causes of the gender-wage gap:

  • insufficient options for child care and elder care, resulting in women doing more unpaid caregiving and having less time for paid work;

  • the sectors and jobs where women and men work are differently valued, with work done by women being undervalued; and,

  • there is gender bias and discrimination (intentional or unintentional) in business practices that can prevent women from achieving their full economic potential.

Things need to change. This is why workers have united under the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. This campaign aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but workers are also demanding better working conditions. For those working precarious jobs, the demands are to create more full time positions, a minimum of three weeks paid vacation, a guaranteed minimum of 3 hour shifts and providing work schedules 2 weeks in advance. The campaign is also looking to establish at least 7 paid sick days. In fact, the current Ontario law does not guarantee a single paid sick day. This means for many folks in precarious work, they have to choose between their health and pay check. This also means many are forced to go to work while ill or send their sick children to school. Workers also want to re-affirm and protect workers’ rights to organize and unionize.

Regarding workplace harassment, the campaign says:

Rights are hollow if workers cannot assert them without being punished or fired. Bullying and harassment is commonplace in Ontario’s workplaces. Because the law in Ontario does not require employers to demonstrate a reason for firing workers, all too often, people who resist or speak out at work are punished or fired. Workers should be better protected from all forms of harassment and bullying in the workplace, such as what is required in Quebec.

More specifically, the campaign aims to: end workplace harassment and bullying, protect workers from unjust dismissal, protect workers during the process of making a complaint and penalize employers who retaliate, and ensure migrant workers receive special protection under the Employment Standards Act to prohibit reprisals from employers. Finally, workers are demanding equal pay for equal work.

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This Labour Day, it is also important to recognize the daily unpaid work of women and gender non-conforming folks. On average, women in Canada spend more time than men on care of children in the household, on domestic work and caring for seniors. Another aspect of unpaid work that is often overlooked is volunteering in the community (which women do slightly more than men), and the amount of education and activism undertaken by LGBTQ2S, Trans, racialized, Indigenous communities, as well as people with disabilities. Often, the burden falls on those experiencing oppression to spend multiple hours educating the most privileged on issues of accessibility, of community-appropriate resources and supports and the changes needed to encourage our society to celebrate diversity. For this often unseen labour, METRAC thanks folks who, day in and day out, work to make our communities more equitable, more inclusive, better and safer.

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The first Labour Day in Canada celebrated the “Nine Hour Movement”, when workers united to ensure a shorter work week for Canadians. This Labour Day, consider joining the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement, to ensure that women of all identities, cultures and religions, so important to the Canadian workforce, gain better work conditions. Also, consider reading about and educating yourself on the resilience of diverse women, and spread the knowledge around you. The more we empathize with each other, the easier it will be to change the world, and make our communities safer.

This blog post was written in collaboration with The Fight for $15 & Fairness. The Fight for $15 and Fairness is a growing movement of community groups, union members, health workers, students and migrant networks across Ontario who are organizing to improve wages and working conditions. The Ministry of Labour is currently reviewing all our employment and labour laws. The time to act is now to make work decent for everyone. Visit 15andfairness.org today to learn how you can take action.

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