On August 25, 2016 the Ontario Government’s Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee released its final report and recommendations to government on how to close the gender wage gap in the province. The recommendations target three root causes of the gender wage gap: women’s disproportionate responsibility for caregiving work and the absence of adequate public supports, systematic undervaluing of and lower rates of pay in sectors and jobs that are dominated by women, and gender bias and discrimination in business practices that disadvantage women.
The first set of recommendations focus on the need for a more balanced distribution of caregiving responsibilities. These recommendations call for the establishment of a childcare system that provides high quality, affordable, accessible, and publicly funded childcare within a defined period of time and calls on government to address gaps in the existing system right away. It also calls for changes to the pregnancy and parental leave provisions in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that will encourage both parents to use parental leave and normalize the practice of men taking parental leave.
The second set of recommendations focus on measures that will support the greater valuation of work in female dominated sectors of employment through assessment of the Pay Equity Act and further consultations with workplace parties.
The third set of recommendations focus on workplace practices and calls on government to encourage employers to put in place pay transparency policies, to develop a gender workplace analysis tool, and to increase the number of women on Boards.
The fourth set of recommendations focus on raising public awareness around the gender wage gap and its impacts through a social awareness campaign and through the education system.
The fifth and final set of recommendations call on government to adopt policy, budget making, and operational processes that are attentive to gender based differences and discrimination.
Assessment of report
The report includes two clearly action-oriented recommendations: the call for the establishment of a more accessible, high quality, affordable childcare system in Ontario and the call for changes to parental leave provisions that will encourage more men to take parental leave. These recommendations are consistent with measures that OCUFA laid out in its submission to the Steering Committee and address one of the root causes of the gender wage gap.
The recommendation that the government develop a gender workplace analysis tool that would help employers to understand whether and to what extent a gender wage gap exists within their workforce suggests some parallels with OCUFA’s call for the expansion of the salary review process. Universities and faculty associations have demonstrated leadership on this front, with many institutions across the province undertaking salary anomaly reviews and in some cases applying remedies when a systematic gender wage gap is found (McMaster and Waterloo are notable recent examples).
The report, however, was silent on many of the other measures that were highlighted in the OCUFA submission, including improving access to collective bargaining and improving terms and conditions for precariously employed workers. Moreover, many of the recommendations were relatively weak – calling for further examinations and assessments, and merely encouraging employers to take certain corrective actions rather than making such actions mandatory – for example, merely encouraging rather than requiring employers to develop of pay transparency policies.
Where government plans to move
In response to the release of the report, the provincial government has signaled only that it will take action on four of the report’s recommendations:
- Make salary data in the Ontario Public Service publicly available by gender in order to increase income transparency
- Require gender based analysis in government policy making
- Appoint an Associate Minister Responsible for Early Years and Child Care to build a childcare system in Ontario
- Provide employers with materials on anti-discrimination and other educational materials related to the gender wage gap
The government has indicated that they will establish a working group that will be tasked with moving forward with recommendations from the report that call for further consultation. No further details regarding the composition of this working group or the scope of its work have been announced.
Most of the report’s recommendations – including the action-oriented proposed changes to the pregnancy and parental leave under the ESA – are not addressed in the government’s response.
Assessment of government action
The appointment of Indira Naidoo-Harris to the role of Associate Minister of Education, Responsible for Early Years and Child Care and the government’s commitment to build an affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care system in Ontario signals a significant policy undertaking on the part of the provincial government and an important step toward addressing one of the root causes of the gender wage gap. However, establishing a comprehensive childcare system on its own will not close the gender wage gap in Ontario and the remaining government actions in response to the report do not represent a comprehensive government strategy for addressing the issue. The Government of Ontario can and must do more to move forward with the recommendations of the steering committee and to eliminate the gender wage gap in Ontario.