Pandemic highlights pay gap for frontline, mostly women, workers

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made frontline essential workers starkly visible in a society that continues to undervalue and underpay those who work in retail, hospitality and gaming, acute and long-term health care, among others. Many of these workers are women and workers of colour who have fought for a living wage for years only to be told by stingy governments and greedy business magnates that their labour shouldn’t earn them the ability to pay for life’s necessities.

Women in Canada earn roughly 30% less than men. This wage gap is caused by many things: streaming in school, undervaluing of women’s work, clustering of women in the lowest-paid sectors and lowest-paid jobs in those sectors, and over-representation of women in precarious, temporary, casual and agency work.

Inadequate social supports, such as the lack of a universal child care system, disproportionately affects women’s workforce participation. The gap is even larger for women who face systemic discrimination because they are Aboriginal, racialized, LGBTQ, elderly or have disabilities.

In the current crisis, many of these women face increased risk due to exposure to the public, and due to their roles as primary caregivers within their families.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) cites that more than half of all women workers (56%) are employed in what they call the “5 Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering, and cleaning. Women also make up more than 90% of nurses, 75% of respiratory therapists, and 80% of those working in medical labs. Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in long-term care homes are 90% women, and they perform the bulk of daily hands-on care for vulnerable and elderly residents.

These workers are being seen now, more than ever, for the vital support they provide to keep us safe, to clean and disinfect workplaces to keep us all healthy, to care for us when we are sick, and to deliver us services and goods we need to survive.

We have an opportunity to fight for pay premiums for retail workers to become permanent, for health care facilities to be adequately staffed and workers properly paid, and to lift precarious workers out of poverty. Coming out of this crisis, we must prioritize equal pay for work of equal value. Clapping and banging pots and pans for frontline workers is lovely, but true appreciation is shown through valuing their work equally and delivering them economic security.

For more information, join the Equal Pay Coalition’s Virtual Rally on Saturday, April 4 at 1:00 p.m. EDT and share their graphics (English only) on social media to invite others.