Make pay equity an election issue

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Author Linda McQuaig.

On International Women’s Day this year, Linda McQuaig -- 
journalist and best-selling co-author of The Trouble with Billionaires -- wondered how a hedge fund manager could earn 82,000 times as much as a nurse. Is he really working 82,000 times as hard, or contributing 82,000 times as much to society?

If the answer is “no”, pay equity is designed to even out the discrepancies. Simply put, pay equity reflects the right to equal pay for work of equal value.

Buy pay equity legislation is determined by federal and provincial governments, who are in turn affected by various groups with power and influence, the democratic will of the electorate and changing political priorities.

While provinces have made some progress, the Canadian government has consistently failed in achieving equal pay for Canadian citizens.

The income gap has narrowed since federal pay equity legislation was first introduced in the 1970s, but women continue to make substantially less than their male co-workers.

McQuaig addressed this discrepancy at the 24th Annual Equality Breakfast hosted by West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund for Women. She described how women’s salaries went from about 65 per cent of men’s income to 70 per cent after initial pay equity legislation was passed under the Trudeau Liberal-minority government. The problem, however, is that women’s incomes have tended to remain more or less at that level ever since, leveling out at about 79 per cent today. Shockingly, women of colour earn about 64 per cent of male wages, and Aboriginal women are stuck at 46 per cent of male wages.

Why? According to McQuaig, this doesn’t have to be the status quo.

“The economic doctrine that we hear all the time bandied about is that incomes are determined by the natural forces of the marketplace. There is nothing natural about the workings of the marketplace. In fact, the market place is governed by laws that are made by humans. You can change the laws and get very different income results. For instance, the hedge fund managers who are making such a killing on Wall Street are doing that under the banking laws that prevail today," McQuaig said. 

"Thirty years ago, we had very different banking laws and it wasn’t possible for the big players to make anywhere near as much. Similarly, corporate CEOs are making dramatically more today then they were back then. The reason is not that CEOs are more productive now; the reason is changes in laws governing executive stock options which have allowed their incomes to soar. In other words, incomes are determined by the particular laws that are in place at a particular time.”

Over time, social movements and their influence have fluctuated, resulting in changing social policy and legislation, McQuaig argued.

“Women have traditionally been a group with minimal power. That’s the reason that their pay has traditionally lagged behind that of men. But that began to change with the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s and the rise of political action on the part of women,” she said.

In 1972, Canada ratified the Convention on Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value and in 1977 a pay equity provision was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

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Gender wage gap

In the U.S., No legislation yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap), not diversity, not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission..... Nor would the Paycheck Fairness Act work.

That's because pay-equity advocates, at no small financial cost to taxpayers and the economy, continue to overlook the effects of this female AND male behavior:

Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier....” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If more women are staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they're supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

Both feminists and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to accept low wages, refuse overtime and promotions, work part-time instead of full-time (“According to a 2009 UK study by Cristina Odone for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 per cent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time.” http://bit.ly/ihc0tl), take more unpaid days off, avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/45ecy7p) — all of which lower women's average pay. They are able to do this because they are supported, or anticipate being supported, by a husband who must earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike women, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

See “A Response to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act at http://tinyurl.com/pvbrcu

By the way, the next Equal Occupational Fatality Day is in 2020. The year 2020 is how far into the future women will have to work to experience the same number of work-related deaths that men experienced in 2009 alone. See http://blog.american.com/?p=30031