Netflix has a new documentary out called “This Will Change Everything”. It’s about the struggle women in Hollywood have faced, advocating for equal pay. A 2017 study comparing the highest-paid male and female actors showed that men averaged a salary of $57.4 million dollars, while the highest paid women made $21.8 million. That means women were making about one third of their male co-stars.
The same wage gap made headlines in the athletic world as well. The Women’s U.S. Soccer Team made history a few years ago, not because of wins (though they did have some spectacular wins), but because they started an equal paymovement. You see, whenever a national team wins, such as the U.S. Soccer Team, they get a financial bonus (for every winning game). Male players averaged a $17,625 windfall, while the female players averaged an $8,500 bonus; less than half. What really annoyed fans too, was the women’s team had more wins and medals than the men’s team, but are still paid less.
Unfortunately, actors and sport stars aren’t alone in this discrimination; their salaries are simply a larger version of what most women are battling here in Southern Ontario and across Canada. That’s why this article is focused on our current pay equity struggles in Ontario.
WHAT IS “PAY EQUITY” OR “THE WAGE GAP”
As a basic example of equal work for equal pay, let’s compare Jack and Jill: Jack walked up the hill to fetch a pail of water. He was paid $23/hour for his time and effort, and managed to fetch 25 buckets of water in that time. Jill walked up the hill, also fetching 25 buckets of water in the same time frame, but was only paid $15/hour.
There are common myths about the pay gap that help to perpetuate the problem. For example, many people believe the pay gap only exists because women are bad at negotiating. However, studies by the Equal Pay Coalition show that paydiscrimination is present even at the start of a new grad’s career. Most recent grads, both male and female, are hesitant to negotiate at their first job, yet males are offered a higher salary to start with.
HOW PAY EQUITY IS PROTECTED IN ONTARIO
Equal work for equal pay is protected by three statutes in Ontario:
EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ACT, 2000
The ESA protects employees from differing salaries based on sex. Jobs that are considered “comparable” by the ESA must have matching skills, efforts, and responsibility. They also need to be performed in similar conditions. If jobs are comparable, salaries need to match.
There are three exceptions, however, an employee may receive a higher wage: if there are seniority systems in place, a merit system, or a production system that grades quality and quantity. So, if Jack has been fetching water for five years and Jill has only been doing it for one year, then that’s an acceptable reason for Jack to be paid more.
PAY EQUITY ACT, 1990
The Pay Equity Act is a little different from the Employment Standards Act. It’s concerned with the value of the job to the organization. In other words, if Jack was fetching water that the organization could sell for $1, but Jill was fetching champagne that the organization could sell for $15, then Jill can receive a higher salary than Jack. Even if it’s the same amount of work, in the same work environment.
HUMAN RIGHTS CODE
There are 17 grounds of discrimination that employees may face in the workplace, and decisions based on sex is one of them. These issues or complaints are protected by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
THE SIZE OF ONTARIO’S PAY GAP
The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition show’s us that in 2021, women are paid 30% less than men. On top of that wage gap, women face more underemployment than men, making up for the majority of part-time workers in Ontario. Additionally, women with disabilities have a 46% wage gap, immigrant women face 39%.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation shows us that about 15% of the wage gap is unexplained, and therefore attributed to discrimination. In most Ontario industries, it takes the average woman 16 months to earn what their male counterpart earns in 12 months. Over the course of their career, the man will work 40 years before retiring. At her reduced salary, a woman will have to work 53 years to earn the same total wage. That’s 13 additional years of work, just to earn the same amount of money.
ELIMINATING THE PAY GAP
Most employers won’t randomly offer their employees a higher wage, especially if they’re already knowingly contributing to the pay gap. Female workers need to do the leg work themselves to determine if they’re paid an equal salary. If they’re not, then it’s worth presenting your case to your employer. This can be incredibly intimidating for any employee to do.
If you know, or feel that you’re being discriminated against and your salary is suffering because of it, seek help. A firm that specializes in employment law, and has worked with the Employment Standards Act, and Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will be a very powerful ally.