FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

Mom, what does “paid a woman’s wage” mean?

Mom, what does “paid a woman’s wage” mean?

It’s a way to denounce something: in Quebec, jobs that are traditionally held by women are not paid the same as those held by men. That’s right, wage discrimination is still very much a reality today, my dear, even in 2021.

A study by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS) shows that there is a 24% wage gap between government corporation jobs held predominantly by men (Hydro-Québec, Loto-Québec, etc.)1 and public administration jobs held predominantly by women (health and social services network, education, public services). It may sound complicated, but in short, it means that the majority of women employed by the government are underpaid compared to their male colleagues. Simply because they work in predominantly female sub-sectors!

How can the government, in 2021, support this wage gap within its own organizations? What is worse, it allows the gap to widen. Since the 2000s, only public administration employees saw their purchasing power systematically decrease, with approved salary increases always below the Consumer Price Index. That means that everything costs more but that salaries don’t keep up, and that we, as women, become poorer. But why do we tolerate it?

Well, part of the answer lies in the fact that women only came massively onto the labour market relatively recently. So, the labour market was still traditionally thought of as for and by men.

Another part of the answer is that society attributes less value to traditionally female jobs. Not that long ago, teaching and care services were provided almost free by religious women. So, our work today is perceived as the extension of the nursemaids from another era, and not as professions in their own right. Old prejudice is hard to destroy, my dear, and still today women struggle to gain recognition for the true value of their work. And yet, we have already demonstrated our professionalism! Every day, healthcare professionals perform diverse, complex tasks that involve a huge amount of responsibility and require expertise and training recognized by professional orders. It’s a big deal, my dear!

Let’s compare a an electrical powerline worker and a licensed practical nurse who have the same level of training, a DVS, and skills according to the National Occupational Classification. A licensed practical nurse at the top of the salary scale earns approximately $10,500 less per year than an electrical powerline worker. She also earns approximately $2,000 less per year than the average Quebecker, even at the top of her salary scale!2 And yet she plays an essential role in the health network! What would Quebeckers do without licensed practical nurses? Once again, this is not based on chance. It is systemic discrimination against our job sector, which is predominantly female.

The government plays a paternalist role itself, regardless of which party is in power in Quebec. It’s always the same explanation: public services are costly and, as a good family father, the government must act “responsibly.” It must reduce the size of the government by making cuts, particularly in health care, social services, and education. It’s a handy pretext to avoid recognizing the impoverishment of healthcare professionals and other public sector workers.

The government prefers to invest in traditionally male sectors, in concrete, rather than in women’s labour. And yet in Quebec, women account for 47.6% of the active population and contribute on a large scale to society and economic vitality. It will soon be your turn to be part of the labour market. But our leaders still consider female jobs as an expense, a bottomless well, rather than a rich resource that grows the economy, especially in times of crisis.

But in order to fully play their social role, governments need to consider us, women, which doesn’t seem to be the case right now. Governments’ successive decisions have major impacts on my workload, physical and mental health, and buying power, as they do on all my colleagues. You see it every day at home, my dear. It also affects the entire population, especially women, who frequently use healthcare services for their children and themselves.

Currently, the Quebec population does not receive the care to which it is entitled. The ever-increasing workload, poor working conditions, little recognition for huge responsibilities, and of course, the lack of recognition in terms of pay, has led to a healthcare professional exodus, which is quickly sending the health network toward a dead end.

Furthermore, the health and social services network still benefits hugely from women’s invisible work but denies it. Let’s take caregivers for example: it’s not uncommon to see a caregiver burn out and become ill because she has a job and takes care of a loved one in difficulty after her work hours. Many end up working less and become less financially secure or even impoverished.

Once again, my girl, we have the right to question how women are made to feel guilty, how their dedication is questioned just to save the system billions of dollars. The network also denies that most of its employees are themselves shackled with major mental load issues. Family constraints are still very real and have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In short, my girl, I, as a Quebecker woman, contribute to our society. I pay taxes for the collective wealth of Quebeckers. My work is essential to our collective well-being. And yet, my buying power keeps shrinking. The government is the only one responsible for my impoverishment and that of women like me. The government has the power to recognize highly qualified healthcare professionals and their skills. Will this be the first government to truly tackle the gender pay gap among its own employees? Will it be brave enough to recognize our true value?

Its salary offers will tell us if it truly wants to cease impoverishing healthcare professionals. Let’s keep an eye on it! It hasn’t heard the last word from us.

I will make my voice heard so that one day, you, my daughter, won’t have to do the same.

Kathleen Bertrand and Caroline Gravel for the Status of Women Committee