COMMENTARY: Pay equity legislation is decades overdue in Newfoundland and Labrador

Why does the provincial government continue denying women and other marginalized people a human right?

By Bridget Clarke – Advocacy Coordinator, St. John’s Status of Women Council

Our provincial government has a history of avoiding critical decision-making that directly affects gender equity. We’ve seen this pattern repeated in the House of Assembly this week using the $13-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject as a scapegoat to put pay equity legislation on the backburner.

While Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons claims we can’t afford pay equity legislation, we know we can’t afford not to legislate pay equity. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-rising cost of living and our provincial government’s inadequate and unsustainable response this week to our ongoing social and economic crisis, pay equity legislation matters now more than ever.

Newfoundland and Labrador is home to Canada’s largest gender pay gap, at 66 cents on the dollar. This gap is wider still for women of colour and other marginalized people in our community. Workers in our province earning minimum wage and those in part-time and precarious jobs are also largely women.

At the St. John’s Status of Women Council, we see the impacts of this inequity every day. What working poverty looks like in real time for women and non-binary people is housing instability, food insecurity and survivors of violence having fewer options to find safety for themselves and their families.

Pay equity would enable families to take steps toward escaping poverty. It would encourage greater equality in our communities and enable everyone to participate fully. Alongside the efforts to mitigate rising costs of living and recover our post-pandemic economy, we have to pass proactive pay equity legislation in both public and private sectors in Newfoundland and Labrador. Let’s measure the impacts of doing this to see the impact it has on our communities, especially the most vulnerable.

The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has been talking about pay equity since 1988. In fact, all but three provinces and territories (including Newfoundland and Labrador) across Canada have legislated pay equity that was introduced in the 1980s and ’90s. In 2017, on International Women’s Day, the House of Assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador saw a motion to introduce pay equity legislation, which was supported by a unanimous vote. Since then, it has not been enacted or prioritized.

We call on the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador to enact proactive pay equity legislation in both public and private sectors. This will directly address our enormous wage gap and protect workers who are racialized, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQIA+ and living with disabilities.

We are eager for meaningful engagement with the provincial government, alongside provincial experts on labour and equity and community organizations that represent marginalized groups, to build a plan to enact proactive pay equity legislation — work that has been researched, developed and has been sitting idle for decades.

In line with the 2004 federal task force and national experts, the St. John’s Status of Women Council recognizes that pay equity is a fundamental human right. To further deny or delay proactive legislation is to infringe on the human rights of many women and marginalized workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. This change cannot wait.