An end to domestic violence.
For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.
Unions have been involved in the struggle for gender equity for more than 100 years. In fact, the first International Women’s Day has its roots in women’s struggles for employment rights and the right to vote. It was unions that helped working women come together in the 1970s to organize for Canada’s first paid maternity leave provisions. Those victories led to longer periods of paid maternity leave – through Employment Insurance – for all working mothers, as well as better leave provisions for many working fathers as well as same-sex and adoptive parents.
Today, though there is much to celebrate, gender inequality is still a very real problem. While Canadian women are well-represented in the workforce and post-secondary education, they also make up a significant majority of part-time and precarious workers, and are over-represented in undervalued and low-wage sectors of employment.
Here are three ways unions are working to promote gender equity and make workplaces and communities better for all Canadian women.
Canada’s lack of a universal system of comprehensive, high-quality early childhood education and child care remains one of the most significant barriers to the advancement of women’s rights and economic empowerment.
We all benefit when people can go to work knowing their kids have a safe place to play and learn. Child care opens the doors to employment, education and advancement. It’s an economic no-brainer. Yet today, only one in five Canadian kids under five has access to a regulated space, and child care fees exceed the cost of university tuition in most Canadian cities.
Canada’s unions are long-time advocates for a quality, universal, accessible public child care system to benefit all Canadian families. Unions have advocated for safe facilities, affordable fees, fairness for child care workers and more spaces for kids. They’ve helped keep existing spaces open and created resources for parents searching for quality care.
Right now, the federal, provincial and territorial governments are negotiating on child care, and unions are working with partners like parents’ groups, child care workers and organizations like the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada to advance the Shared Framework for Building an Early Childhood Education and Care System for All. That means encouraging all levels of government to recognize that child care is a human right and public good, not a commodity, and to commit to a plan for long-term, sustained child care funding.
It’s about fairness: workers doing work of equal value should receive equal compensation. But even today, women in Canada are getting paid significantly less than men, and the gap is even bigger for racialized or Indigenous women, women who identify as LGBTQ, and women with disabilities. Discrimination affects women of all education levels, regardless of their family decisions.
Canadian unions have long been at the forefront of addressing the gender pay gap. Until the 1950s, men and women working side-by-side doing exactly the same job were paid differently. Unions worked for equal pay through bargaining and advocated for better legislation. As a result, the first provincial and federal equal pay laws were passed in the 1950s and 60s.
Unfortunately, employers could still get away with continuing to pay women less by hiding unequal pay in differences in job titles, benefits, or bonuses. A slight difference in duties could mean a big difference in wages.
That’s why unions today work for “pay equity” — the right for people of all genders to be paid the same for work of equal value. Unions have won pro-active pay equity legislation covering both public and private-sector workers in Ontario and Quebec, but many provinces still have no pay equity legislation.
In 2013, the Canadian Labour Congress worked with researchers at the University of Western Ontario to study the impacts of domestic violence on workplaces across Canada. Before this, almost no data on this issue existed. The results of the study were sobering: one in three workers has experienced domestic violence, and this violence follows them to work. Over 80 percent of victims reported their performance was negatively impacted, and more than half said the abuse occurred at or near their workplace.
Unions believe that work needs to be safe for everyone. If one worker is vulnerable, all workers are affected. That’s why Canadian unions have been tackling the issue of domestic violence at work in several ways:
The CLC and its affiliated unions have created videos and posters, and partnered with women’s organizations to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence at work.
In 2015, the CLC set up an online resource centre where union leaders, representatives, and workers can build awareness, break the silence, and improve workplace safety.
The CLC and several of its affiliated unions provide in-person training to representatives on dealing with domestic violence and other issues women may experience in the workplace. For example, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has a network of social stewards who are provided training to assist in prevention of a range of difficulties, including family-related problems. Across the country, Unifor has more than 300 trained Women’s Advocates, who assist women confidentially to access community and workplace resources.
Canadian unions are working with governments across Canada to build on these models to ensure any worker who experiences domestic violence – whether union or non-union – doesn’t have to choose between staying safe and losing their job. As a result of this work, in March 2016 the Manitoba government passed legislation allowing a combination of paid and unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence seeking safety away from abusers. A similar bill is also being considered in Ontario.