Sarah St John | CUPE Research

CUPE bargaining teams won a major victory for equity in British Columbia this summer. BC Community Health (CBA) and Community Social Service (CSS) ratified deals that included $40 million and $60 million respectively in funding for low-wage redress.

Redress is about justice for workers who have been systematically undervalued. In this case, the funds will be targeted at the lowest earners and will go a long way in reducing long-term inequalities in compensation in social services and health care. This redress funding is in addition to the two per cent annual general wage increase achieved in each year of the three-year collective agreement!

The Community Health Bargaining Association represents 16,000 workers in BC, of whom approximately 2000 are CUPE members. The Community Social Services Bargaining Association represents 15,000 workers, around 4,350 of whom belong to CUPE. (The CUPE membership figures include members from the Hospital Employees’ Union, or HEU, a CUPE service division).

The provision of health care in our communities outside of traditional hospital settings is increasing. As this trend continues, it is important that we recognize the equal value of health and social services work that is done outside of hospitals. Achievements like low-wage redress are key to ensuring that jobs in health and elder care are attractive and decent jobs as our society changes the way it delivers health care.

This significant funding for low-wage redress is also an important step forward towards pay equity in BC. Currently, the average woman working a full-time, full-year job in Canada earns 74 per cent what an average man earns. This gap has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years. This can be partially explained by the fact that female workers are concentrated in industries and occupations with traditional gender roles. In order to reduce the gender-pay-gap, the systematic undervaluation of traditionally women’s work needs to be addressed. 

In Canada, women make up over 80 per cent of the workers in health care and social services. In BC, the community health and social services sectors are among the lowest-paid public sector workers in the province. For example, a Community Health Worker and Awake Residential Night Worker both earn less than $19 per hour. These wages are not enough to keep up with the cost of living in BC, especially for part-time workers.

All workers deserve decent compensation that keeps up with the cost of living. As we celebrate this victory for CUPE members in BC, we will continue to advocate for our lowest-earning members whose work continues to be significantly undervalued.