IAMAW Canada – Living Wages: Narrowing Wealth Inequality

ILO Reaches Agreement on Living Wages

The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations with a mandate to promote decent work around the world by setting international labour standards, reached a milestone agreement on living wages.

Experts who studied living wages as a policy tool, agreed that living wages are essential for social and economic justice and equity. Living wages also play a role in reducing poverty and inequality, both of which are becoming social problems of our time. By some accounts the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Canadians is growing at record speed.  Research by StatsCan shows that the top 20% of earners in Canada held 68 % of the country’s net worth in the first quarter, compared with the bottom 40% holding 2.7 %. (LINK)

The ILO emphasized that living wages should be set by, “…strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining and empowering wage-setting institutions. The document also recalls that, “the needs of workers and their families and economic factors are the two pillars of wage-setting processes”. This means that policymakers ought to develop policies that take into account hardships and daily realities of working people, as well as, economic factors. Despite calls on governments to address the needs of workers, many workers continue to struggle to meet their needs. Wages are endemically low compared to the cost of living, and many families are unable to afford healthy food, decent housing, medical care or schooling for their children.

In Canada alone, usage of food banks has grown at unprecedented levels, by 78% since March 2019. Food insecurity, defined by not having access to sufficient food, or food of adequate quality, is now being driven by inflation and the high cost of living. What has also changed among food bank users is that 20% have jobs, but don’t earn enough to make ends meet.

What Are Living Wages?

A living wage covers basic expenses and allows a worker to fully participate in their community. Living wages provide workers with a decent living, enable them to participate in their community and meet their needs without reliance on government assistance. Living Wage Canada tracks regional economic changes and adjusts regional living wages; for more information, you can visit this website https://www.livingwage.ca/

Minimum wages, on the other hand, prevent employers from paying workers any lower than the minimum. They are often set by legislation, making it illegal to pay workers below the minimum.

As making ends meet on a minimum wage is next to impossible for majority of Canadians, promotion of living wages at the international level is groundbreaking. The ILO’s support provides another policy tool for governments to use in addressing the alarming wealth gap.

IAMAW Canada – Thought you knew about the Gender Gap? READ THIS!

A recent report on the status of women by the World Bank revealed a concerning, but not an entirely surprising trend; the global gender gap is greater than was previously thought. The report reveals that no country in the world has achieved gender equality, at least in terms of providing the same opportunities for women as are available to men.

The sobering results come out of a study that examined the impact of childcare and safety policies, or lack thereof, on women’s participation in the labour market in 190 countries. When accounting for these two types of policies, results showed that women were further behind than previously thought. On average, women enjoyed just 64% of the legal protections men do, down from the previous estimate of 77%.

Labour Participation- Roadblocks

Countries that have policies on childcare and safety implemented only 40% of systems to fully enact either policy. This means that despite well intentioned policies, political clout and willingness simply weren’t there to implement the policies fully. Both policies have shown to eliminate obstacles to women’s participation in the labour force.  It goes to show that not only do governments need to develop policies, but that those policies need to go hand in hand with robust implementation systems in order for those policies to have an impact on the lives of women.

Pensions- Women More Likely to Live in Poverty After Retirement

The report also highlighted another area where women tend to fall behind; pensions. This is an important issue, given that women pensioners are more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. In 81 countries, a woman’s pension benefits do not account for periods of work absences related to childcare, which in turn impacts her retirement income.

Sexual Harassment- Broadening the Scope of Legislation

Sexual harassment has received significant attention recently, although, it’s been a rallying issue for women’s movements since the 1960s. 151 countries developed laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, but only a fraction had laws prohibiting sexual harassment in public areas and public transport. Legislation has also to catch up with new developments like cyberharassment on various digital platforms where women often are targets of violent threats and hate speech. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/brampton-councillors-women-harassment-violence-epidemic-women-s-day-1.7131257

The Chief Economist of the World Bank indicated that, “discriminatory laws and practices prevent women from working or starting businesses on an equal footing with men. Closing this gap could raise global gross domestic product by more than 20% – essentially doubling the global growth rate over the next decade – but reforms have slowed to a crawl.”

There are many reasons as to why trends in global gender gaps are consistently increasing, but we cannot underestimate the impact of conservative governments who have defunded social and public services, targeting not only access but wages of public sector workers who are predominantly female. Over the last few years, we’ve seen rollbacks in women’s rights throughout the world, both in terms of constitutionally protected rights, but also rollbacks on policies that help women enter the workforce, and access well paid jobs.

What is the Gender Gap?

The gender gap is the difference between men and women as reflected in their participation in political, social, economic, intellectual, and cultural attainments. The gap is also studied by analysing outcomes in four areas, health, education, economics and politics.

A Look Ahead

While the study findings are bleak, there are strides towards equality being made. EU member states have adopted EU-wide rules on the criminalization of certain forms of gender-based violence and better access to justice, protection and prevention. Some African countries have some of the best childcare and safety policies in the world that can serve as templates for other countries. International solidarity is essential when the issue is global.

However, none of these changes are possible without efforts of activists, allies and organized labour, inside our workplaces and communities.

This International Women’s Day, let’s not forget how far we’ve come and celebrate hard-won victories. Let’s also tap into the courage and wisdom of those who came before us and continue the hard work of achieving a more just world for us all. Let’s keep the hope and determination alive that a different kind of world is possible.