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Time for Action June Town Halls - All details

Equality on paper, but not in practice

By Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff

May 11, 2023

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AUPE’s Pay and Social Equity committee held an educational event for activists and union members on April 14 at AUPE Headquarters. Read what committee chair Sandra Azocar has to say about improving pay and social equity in 2023. 

Some believe the gender wage gap no longer exists. The truth is that wage and social inequity is, in some ways, as divisive as ever, with employers, bosses, the rich and the powerful finding new ways to push us down to make their millions. 

Pay and social inequity impacts countless Albertans. We have an enormous gap between the average salaries for men and women—nearly a 40 per cent difference—and we are also one of the few Canadian provinces that does not have laws enforcing pay equity. This all means AUPE’s Pay and Social Equity committee and their mission is as important as ever. 

“These issues matter to AUPE members,” says Sandra Azocar, AUPE vice-president and chair of the committee. “Seventy-five per cent of AUPE members are women, and we feel the negative impacts of the wage gap every single day.” 

Activists, academics, and members addressed these issues at the committee’s recent Pay and Social Equity Town Hall at AUPE Headquarters. It was an educational event with a number of high-profile presenters, including Rebecca Graff-McRae and Ricardo Acuna from the Parkland Institute as well as Hitomi Sutzuna, AUPE research officer and staff advisor for the committee. 

Data from Statistics Canada shows Alberta is one of the worst provinces when it comes to the gender wage gap. But who does pay and social inequity harm the most? Unsurprisingly, Indigenous women, women of colour, and newcomers to Canada suffer the most from pay and social inequity. Disabled women are even worse off. A significant number of AUPE members fall into these groups, and Azocar says this is no coincidence. 

“Many of the jobs AUPE members perform are part of the ‘care economy,’” she says. “The care economy is a name we give to a whole group of jobs that are typically performed by women. Those who work in these fields, like nurses, cleaners, secretaries, and administrative staff, are overworked and underpaid because our society undervalues these traditionally feminine jobs.” 

However, as AUPE members know, pay equity is not strictly a gendered issue—it affects workers of all kinds in all sectors. Employers are sneaky, and many will try anything so long as it helps increase profits for owners and shareholders.  

Manipulating classifications is a common tactic employers use to avoid equity at work. A proper job classification system ensures workers hired for different jobs are doing different kinds of work. In other words, the differences between classifications should be significant. But employers love to create confusing classifications or make one classification of workers do lots of kinds of work. 

How does this work in practice? It usually means staff perform duties that should earn them a higher wage, but they are instead stuck in a classification that pays less because of the other work they do. All this means that, instead of making the same wages and benefits for work of equal value, the workers in these classifications are robbed of what they deserve. 

“Employers intentionally perpetuate wage gaps between workers,” says Azocar. “It isn’t a question of having a rational conversation or convincing them of what’s right, because they won’t listen. We have to force them to do the right thing. 

“The fight for equity has gone on too long, but it is not over, and so the fight must go on.” 

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