Strikes and demonstrations among textile workers in 1911 marked the beginning of the labour movement’s call for women’s right to work, vote, hold office and end discrimination. At the 100-year mark, women around the world and in Canada in particular, celebrate considerable progress. For example, at work and in politics, whereas women were totally excluded in the past, today they only experience a measure of limitation. However, at the end of the day, we continue to rally for those same benefits as those early textile workers, but in fuller measure.
Having won the right to work, women’s still experience a gender pay gap of 70.5% and, in spite of having won the right to vote and hold office, women hold only 22% of elected positions at all levels of government in Canada.
On this hundredth anniversary of a century of progress, women are working longer hours outside the home and shouldering a disproportionate share of unpaid labour and domestic work for their families. In addition, women today have fewer children than in the past and stay out of the work force for shorter terms with their pre-school children, and in spite of all this effort to supplement the family income, their hard-earned second paycheck only serves to maintain what one paycheck achieved in the past. All workers are losing ground, but women to a greater extent than men.
This situation report isn’t a complaint: it’s a call to action. Governments continue to fail to address key issues such as elder care and childcare that severely and negatively women’s participation in the workforce. While the majority of women with pre-school children are in the workforce, only 15% of them have access to public childcare. And at the end of their working careers, which are disproportionately spent in part-time, low-wage and precarious employment, women face a greater prospect of poverty than their male counterparts. The low income rate of senior women on their own significantly exceeds that of men, at more than double the rate. And this hardship isn’t merely historic. Young women today will experience the same poverty in their senior years as women do now. Lack of affordable public childcare will keep them in low-paying part-time jobs and cuts to good-paying union jobs will eliminate opportunities for access to financial security.
On the hundredth anniversary of the movement to extend citizenship and security to women, the labour movement calls upon government to reform the Canadian Pension Plan, gradually enhancing benefits from 25% of insurable earnings to 50%, double the current rate and raise the Guaranteed Income Supplement so no senior lives below the poverty line. The current federal government position that people should invest in private sector pension plans rather than look to an enhanced CPP hasn’t worked for 40 years and isn’t likely to do so now. It will be good for the banks and plan managers but do nothing for workers, especially those in part-time jobs.
Social programs were instrumental in raising working Canadian’s access to income and retirement security throughout the twentieth century. Today, many of those programs are under attack and others are still underdeveloped., especially those which impact women’s lives and careers. It is incumbent upon government to work to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the workforce and society, to address families needs for adequate childcare, elder care and pension programs and ensure that women can take their place as full participants in the Canadian economy. Our national economic well-being and productivity depend on it.
President, Cornwall & District Labour Council
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