But union activists at a pay equity workshop in Saskatoon in April began developing plans to change that. The one day strategy workshop, organized by the Pay Equity Coalition and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, attracted CUPE members working in libraries, municipalities, schools and universities, group homes and other workplaces on the wrong side of the governments pay equity policy.
When the policy was introduced in 1997, the minister responsible for the Womens Secretariat, Joanne Crofford, described it as the light at the end of the tunnel for working women. But it remains a dim light for most working women, as it excludes far more workplaces than it covers.
Initially, the policy was restricted to about 20 public sector employers. Last year, following strikes by CUPEs 12,000 health care workers and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses for pay equity and wage parity, the health sector was formally added.
Women working in female-dominated jobs in other sectors such as schools, universities and libraries are dismayed by the lack of progress in bringing pay equity to their workplaces. It makes me kind of angry and really disappointed, says workshop participant Betty Schurman, who returned to the workforce two years ago after taking time out to care for her children.
Betty, a teaching assistant in Saskatoon and member of CUPE 2268, is a veteran of the struggle to recognize the value of womens work. Back in the paid labour force, she says working to achieve pay equity seemed like the logical next step.
One of the key strategies discussed at the workshop is a co-ordinated plan to use the human rights route to achieve pay equity. At every bargaining table not covered by the governments pay equity policy, we want to see union proposals to deal with the wage inequities, explains Aina Kagis, CUPE rep and chair of the Pay Equity Coalition. If the problem isnt addressed by the conclusion of bargaining, the union will organize and file group wage complaints with the human rights commission.
The strategy recognizes unions have an obligation to address gender-based wage discrimination at the bargaining table. In a precedent-setting decision, the Saska-tchewan appeal court ruled in 1998 that human rights complaints involving pay discrimination must be filed against both the employer and the union.
The strategy also highlights that wage discrimination is a human rights issue and thats important, Kagis says.
Both the Coalition and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission want the government to pass pay equity legislation to remedy the systemic undervaluing of womens work. Kagis expects the human rights strategy will support this goal as the complaint-based process is extremely slow and cumbersome.
Although none of the strategies discussed at the workshop will change the pay equity skyline overnight, participants seemed pleased to be working on blueprints and preparing for construction season.