Sarah Ryan  | CUPE Research

It is a sad fact that for many people the size of their paycheque is affected by discrimination. In Ontario a government consultation on the gender wage gap was announced in 2015. CUPE is working to ensure that the voices of its members are heard throughout the consultation.

Ontario is not the only Canadian province with a gender pay gap; in fact, the numbers show that wage disparity exists across the country. Canada actually has the 7th highest gender pay gap of the 34 OECD countries, with the gap ranging from 16.1 per cent in Prince Edward Island to a whopping 42.5 per cent in Alberta.

The gender wage gap is a critical issue for CUPE members, 68 per cent of whom are women.

Behind the gender pay gap

The persistence of the gender wage gap stems from deeply-rooted patterns of inequality in our society. Fields of work where women are highly represented are generally paid less than those where men form the majority. Women also face barriers to accessing higher paid jobs in fields where men predominate.

Many CUPE members are concentrated in female-dominated, ‘caring’ sectors such as health care, education, social services and child care. These sectors not only face a wage penalty because the majority of workers are women, but also because the ‘care work’ they do was traditionally done by women. According to a UNRISD study, this ‘care penalty’ in Canada was found to be almost 10 per cent.

Closing the gap

There are various steps we can take to help close the gender wage gap.

In many provinces, pay equity legislation can be a great tool to help address the gender pay gap. If your workplace is covered by pay equity legislation, be sure to develop and regularly review your pay equity plan.

Unions are on the frontline of minimizing discriminatory pay practices through collective bargaining. Public sector workers experience reduced discriminatory pay gaps for women, Aboriginal and visible minority workers. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report on public sector wages links this reduction to unionization and collective bargaining, benefits such as paid parental leave, family leave and sick leave, and pay equity legislation.

CUPE’s Strategic Directions goal of bringing all members up to a minimum of 18 dollars per hour is also an important step as more women are concentrated at the bottom of salary scales. Broader policies on which CUPE advocates also help reduce the gap such as increasing the minimum wage, promoting access to unionization and collective bargaining and affordable and accessible child care.

To raise awareness of the effects of the gender pay gap in Canada CUPE’s Social Services Workers’ Coordinating Committee has developed a gender pay gap pop-up bake shop to set up at regional consultation meetings, community fairs and union events. Cookies cost 68.5 cents for women and 1 dollar for men to reflect the 31.5 per cent pay gap women face in Ontario. According to StatCan and the CCPA, a pay gap also exists for racialized workers, Aboriginal workers and workers with disabilities.

For information on how to develop your own gender pay gap bake shop, please contact