Budget a missed opportunity: pay equity groups

·3 min read

Feminist leaders say New Brunswick's latest budget is a start, but don’t break out the champagne just yet.

Christine Griffin, associate director of Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick said Tuesday's budget demonstrates a “lack of ambition.”

While a move to introduce some element of gender-based analysis - using a lens which looks at the way policies may disproportionately affect different demographics - was included in the budget, like small investments in salaries for care workers who are mostly women, and applauded by the group, “this is not a feminist budget,” Griffin said.

Investments being made aren't enough to close to wage gap, she said.

The province showed a willingness to invest in social infrastructure, like some investments in housing, she said, but investments needed to be higher. The budget missed "an opportunity to be innovative, to invest in the public sector in a way that would ensure that all New Brunswickers were included," she said, and that the specific ways that the pandemic affected women would be fully taken into account.

“We feel that this did not quite reach the mark,” Griffin said.

While some investments in sectors dominated by women were good to see, such as a pay hike for early childhood educators, investments were not at a level to reach pay equity, said Johanne Perron, executive director of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity.

“We are glad the budget recognizes the essential role caregivers and early childhood educators play in caring for the most vulnerable New Brunswickers, and how wages represent an important metric in recognizing the value of that work and improving the recruitment and retention of these workers," Perron said. "However, it falls short of a five-year plan to reach pay equity and bring stability to the sector."

The budget included an hourly increase of 75 cents for the wages of trained early childhood educators, bringing their hourly rate to $19.

But the investment in wage increases is not enough to reach pay equity this year, nor is it enough to reach it in five years, said Perron, noting wages should be $22 to $25 per hour in the caregiving sector.

She also worried about other jobs in the care field which have fallen below that payscale, including many women-dominated jobs in special care, elder care and those at transition centres for women fleeing domestic violence.

When certain jobs are dominated by women, the coalition is asking the province to have jobs evaluated and compared to jobs that may be in fields dominated by men but require similar education, skills and other factors, said Perron.

Legislation requiring this evaluation to occur in the private sector already exists in Quebec and other regions, providing a clear model the coalition itself uses, she said. The organization is calling for the same in New Brunswick, noting the legislation exists here in the public sector but not in the non-profit or private sectors.

Women in the labour force have been hit harder by the pandemic, she said, noting more of the caregiving roles are being done by women and more women left their jobs during the pandemic, something the government has recognized, Perron said, while calling the budget “a missed opportunity to invest in an inclusive recovery.”

“We could have been bolder,” she said, adding it is disappointing to see a bigger investment wasn’t made despite all the attention on the importance of these frontline workers during the pandemic.

While some sectors will be a bit in the dark until the legislature’s estimate process occurs, it is clear the province needs to invest more heavily in the caregiving and childcare sectors, she said.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal