Saturday, 13 April 2013

Living in the Red

Many of us are aware of the sorry state of pay equality in Ontario but are uninformed of its full breadth. To that end, the Equal Pay Coalition (EPC) has declared April 9 Equal Pay Day in Ontario. It is an important day meant to address and raise awareness of the woeful gender pay gap in Ontario, which currently stands at about 28%.

On April 9, the EPC asked people to wear red in order to highlight the fact that female workers are “in the red” as compared to male workers and to show support for efforts being made to close the gender pay gap. Gender pay inequality is an issue 365 days a year and the EPC’s efforts to reserve at least one day to bring attention to this issue is admirable and highly called for.

Why there is a Gender Pay Gap – Education & Socialization

While there may be many causes of the gender pay gap, one significant factor is education. There are presently more female university students than there are male[1]. Yet women tend to earn less than males when exiting university. This has been attributed to the selection of different Majors. Males, for instance, are more likely to study more lucrative technical fields, while women are more likely to study less lucrative fields like social sciences or the arts. As a result, female workers are more concentrated in professions with traditionally lower pay[2]. This could account for the gap to some extent, but not for the difference in study choices.

Though it may be tempting to say that women simply have different interests than men and conclude the matter there, the truth is more complex. Evidence suggests that gender differences are not inborn. They are learned behaviours. Parental and social expectations go a long way toward shaping how a person will act. Almost from the get-go, gender-specific toys and/or giving gender based assignments shape a child and begin the process of socialization.[3] Stated another way, girls are taught to be “girls” and boys are taught to be “boys.” Such gender socialization perpetuates the pay equity gap and contributes to lower pay among women throughout their lives and increases the likelihood of poverty among retired women.

Gender socialization greatly impacts a gender’s belief about its chances for success. Even where the genders share the same study preferences if there’s a difference among them in their belief about success in a given field, they’ll pursue different areas of study[4]. That being said, women have been found to have similar confidence in their abilities as men in fields like engineering. The reason women are under-represented in this field is likely because women don’t believe they’ll enjoy studying engineering[5]. The reason, however, that this belief exists could be that girls are raised to put a premium on more “feminine” things. Thus, while there might be a similar belief in ability, the belief that success in a field will be fulfilling or unfulfilling may be on account of socialization.

Girls are socialized to believe they must live up to different expectations than men. Many girls are raised with images of Disney princesses and trained to ascribe too much importance to beauty. Girls are raised to think that it doesn’t matter if they can solve a quadratic equation if they’re not traditionally “pretty” and feminine. To be beautiful is the greatest success. Fields relating to math, science and technology don’t fit this bill. These fields simply are not as much a part of the expectations for females as they are for males. This is despite the fact that there’s no evidence women can’t be as successful as men in these fields. Different societal expectations lead to different beliefs and result in lower interest among women in pursuing such interests. Women are steered away from technical fields by social expectations, not by a lack of ability.

Motherhood

On top of the challenges women face in the educational sphere, the belief that women will have children that will interrupt their career progression negatively impacts the view of female job applicants in the eyes of prospective employers[6]. Motherhood has been found to lead to a reduction in women’s wages and an increase in the gender pay gap. Motherhood often leads to an absence from the labour force, diminished work-experience and a preference for more flexible work schedules, such as those attained via part-time work. Thus even when a woman can overcome the negative effects of socialization there is still another hurdle to equal pay.

Closing the Gap – Changing Expectations

Evidence has shown that the best way to close the gender pay gap is through the encouragement of women and girls to not merely believe but to know that they can perform just as well as men in any field, and to encourage interests in those fields once demonstrated.[7] The source of the next great scientific advancement could be fulminating in the mind of a young girl at this very moment. However, if she grows up with the false belief that science is the rightful domain of her brothers and that she should turn her attention to something more “feminine” we could all suffer an inestimable loss. The broader question is why jobs traditionally filled by females pay less.

So what is the rationale for valuing female contributions to society at such a discount compared to male contributions? The answer might just be deceptively simply after all. Given the history of struggle women have had to go through merely to be recognized as “persons”, the reason why traditionally female jobs are undervalued may be because women have traditionally been undervalued. The current situation has gone on for far too long; it cannot be allowed to continue. Girls and women must not be forced to live in the red because of social expectations and the realities of motherhood. No woman should be forced by gender-based factors to live out her golden years in poverty. There must be a change. There must be an Equal Pay Day.

To learn more about the gender pay gap issue and to ask Premier Wynne to declare April 9 Equal Pay Day in this province, just as President Obama did in America on April 17, 2012[8], the EPC’s website may be visited here: http://www.equalpaycoalition.org/

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ford Inching toward the Supreme Court

On April 2, the Divisional Court made a ruling which can’t help but bolster faith in the justice system when it denied Rob Ford’s request to be reimbursed for legal costs. As noted in earlier posts, A Superior Court Judge had ousted Ford from his position as mayor over a conflict of interest issue. On appeal, the Divisional Court overturned that ruling and returned Ford to his mayoral seat. Ford then sought an order from the Divisional Court that Mr. Madger, the citizen who brought the case against Ford, pay his legal costs. The costs were in the ballpark of $116,000.00.

Ford argued Mr. Madger was pursuing a political agenda when he brought the case against him. Mr. Madger argued he was acting in the public interest. The Divisional Court agreed with Mr. Madger, finding that Mr. Madger was a public interest litigant. As such, the Court ruled it would be improper to order Mr. Madger to pay Ford’s costs[1].

This decision is important more for what it didn’t do than for what it did do. What it didn’t do is create a precedent for public officials being awarded exorbitant cost awards against citizen public interest litigants. A decision awarding Ford costs could have had an extreme chilling effect on such litigants, effectively terrorizing citizens into silence and submission when officials commit dubious acts. If the Divisional Court had ruled otherwise, the fear of being ordered to pay bank-breaking costs if they lost their case could have muzzled any citizen who would seek to uphold the public interest.

The Divisional Court’s decision defended the rights of citizen’s to hold their public officials to account and protected such citizen’s from being silenced for fear of punishing cost orders.  Ford has said of the decision: “It’s ridiculous. I won it fair and square.”[2] While it’s true that in Canada we typically have a loser pays costs system, this was not the typical case.

Although to say Mr. Madger has lost the case against Ford may be jumping too far ahead. Mr. Madger and his attorney have sought leave from the Supreme Court to appeal the ruling which restored Ford to office.

One ground by which leave may be sought is where the issue is of public importance. This adds to the significance of the Divisional Court’s decision not to award costs against Mr. Madger. In one fell swoop the Divisional Court’s ruling refused to create a chilling effect on public interest litigation and reinforced the contention that Mr. Madger is a genuine public interest litigant, supporting the grounds under which leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is sought.

Citizens deserve to have the chance to hold their public officials to account without fear of reprisal. Ford does not seem to agree. And why would he? To be accountable means simply to be responsible to other people for one’s own poor behaviour. With a track record like Ford’s, it’s doubtful there could be anything more frightening than to be accountable to the citizens he purports to govern. Numerous political luminaries have noted that transparency and accountability are vital pillars to good democratic government. Though Ford has an apparent willingness to dispose of these pillars with little or no thought, it is encouraging to know that the judiciary is not similarly inclined.  

 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Well Worth the Fight

Labor Unions are the leading force for democratization and progress.
                                                                                   -Noam Chomsky

The discussions between the governing Liberals and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario are progressing well. So well, in fact, that a tentative deal regarding changes to the current contracts that were imposed under the infamous Putting Students First Act is reported to be close at hand.  The ETFO has come to a number of "understandings" with the governing Liberals, which could include improvements to maternity leave benefits and more favourable treatment of sick days.

As discussed in previous posts, the ETFO advised its members to suspend extracurriculars in protest of Bill 115 and the PSFA and to continue the protest until the ETFO was convinced of the government’s sincerity in pursuing meaningful discussions with the teachers. Convinced of this sincerity, the ETFO advised its members to reinstate extracurriculars.

This decision to suspend extracurriculars had led to even more ferocious attacks from factions of the government, particularly the Conservatives. The ETFO was often accused of jeopardizing the educational experience of the students in pursuit of their own interests. Now, despite Liberal and ETFO assurances to the contrary, the Conservatives allege that there must be a secret deal between the parties, thereby ascribing to each a sinister motive. Given the lack of evidence in support of this allegation, the motive has been left as vague as it is ambiguous.  

When asked recently if suspending extracurriculars had been worth the damage done to the students, Mr. Hammond disagreed with the overall assessment that the students had been harmed and asserted that the protest was well worth it, stating: “I would say to you, absolutely, the stand that we have taken, the position we've taken and the actions that we have implemented to get us to where we are have all been very much worth it."[1]

It’s difficult to imagine any right-thinking person could disagree with Mr. Hammond’s take on the matter. To even ask the question of whether the protests were worth it is to undermine the ETFO’s decision to suspend extracurriculars and to suggest that any improvements to the contracts is a minor victory won at a great cost. It is to ignore the importance of the rights the teachers’ unions have been defending. When the Liberals enacted the PSFA, they trampled the collective bargaining rights of organized labour and flouted the protections of the Charter, including the right to strike. Surely these rights are worth fighting for.

We all do well to remember that collective bargaining and Charter rights were not simply handed over to unions. These rights were hard-won through the tireless efforts of workers to be treated fairly and with dignity. Workers have died striving to secure and maintain such rights, rights which the PSFA severely curtailed. In ceasing extracurriculars, the ETFO used their restricted ability under the PSFA to oppose these repressive measures. To oppose this legislation was not only crucial to ensuring the government knows that unions will not be abused without a fight, it was vital to showing solidarity and respect for the past efforts of all working men and women who struggled for a better future for themselves, their families, and the country as a whole.

Apart from the obvious practicality of suspending extracurriculars, the fight of the teachers’ unions has been one of symbolic necessity. The ETFO has been engaged in a struggle to defend the past, present and future rights of workers in this province. To suggest that the alleged “harm” done to students through the suspension of extracurriculars may not be worth the ETFO’s protest efforts is to posit that children do not require the positive example set by unions defending their democratic rights. Indeed, it is to suggest that children are harmed by unions asserting their democratic rights. If one thing has long held true it is that children are not harmed by the democratic process. They are harmed, however, by submission to authoritarian disdain for citizens’ rights. In suspending extracurriculars the ETFO has done nothing less than hold the government to its democratic responsibilities, and that is well worth the while.