An advocacy group is calling on the province to make wages in the women–dominated care sector more equitable.
A report by the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity says home care workers, crisis interveners and caregivers in community residences can be paid up to $10 less per hour than they should be.
The coalition, which includes 88 organizations including CUPE, New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions and NB Special Care Home Association, said fair wages for workers in this sector would be between $22-25 an hour. But wages are much lower, ranging between $15.30 - $16.80 an hour.
Johanne Perron, the executive director of the coalition, said it can be difficult to determine the pay gap in an industry so dominated by women because it's not possible to compare the wages of men and women working the same job.
Instead they used a formula from Quebec's pay equity regime to determine how undervalued their work can be.
Perron said that's partly because the work has historically been done mostly by women.
"I think that we've been devaluing this work as a society for a long time," said Perron.
"First of all, we expect women to do it for free at home. I think it's changing and that's really positive. But I still see this, that we expect women to take care of children and vulnerable people and their families, more than men."
Long time coming
Nancy Tower, the assistant director of Oromocto Community Residences, said while things have improved since care workers used to be paid close to minimum wage, there's still a long way to go.
"There's no question about it, this field, this sector has been undervalued for the entire duration of my 36 years of employment," said Tower.
Perron says being chronically underpaid has had a huge impact on those working in the sector.
She said this causes many people to drop out and turnover is high.
"It's really hard to recruit new staff and it's hard to keep that staff," said Perron.
"The sector really is in crisis."
Tower said the high degree of accountability and responsibility in the care sector is not reflected in the wage workers earn, and they often leave.
"They realize over time that the workload on them is so overwhelming that they do end up leaving for a job that is perhaps a little easier, certainly a job that is better paid," said Tower.
"We've lost a lot of employees to call centres."
Perron said the coalition wants the province to implement a five-year plan to address pay equity and bring in pay equity legislation for the private sector.
"We need a real plan to get to pay equity for the whole sector," said Perron.
"We're hoping that the government will really take into account our study."
In a statement to CBC News, Tammy Scott-Wallace, the minister responsible for women's equality, said she appreciates the work that has gone into the report and will review it.
"We highly value the contributions of these individuals and have included the caregiving sector as part of the agreements for wage top ups being disbursed for essential workers," said Scott-Wallace. "In the longer term, we recognize the wages and conditions for these valued workers need to be considered as we work to address the sustainability of these valued services."