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'Gender pay equity' an uphill battle for UBC child care workers

Early childhood educators at the University of British Columbia are voting to strike over what they call an issue of "gender pay equity," but it will be difficult to get what they want because of the government's cooperative gains mandate.

Ninety-five per cent of Canadian early childhood educators (ECEs) are women, and a number of the 160 ECEs working in child care services at the university earn less than Vancouver's living wage, according to workers involved in a campaign called "We Care about UBC Child Care."

"Can it be that the wages paid to UBC's early childhood educators are more reflective of the gender of the child care workforce, and less reflective of the actual qualifications, responsibilities, and value that this highly skilled workforce provides to UBC?" the campaigners ask.

Rather than a raise, the workers are seeking what they call a "pay correction," which includes a minimum of $20 per hour instead of their current wage, a minimum of $11.81 per hour up to a maximum of $21.70.

They argue this would address issues such as pay based on gender discrimination and other inequalities, rather than a pay raise which generally reflects changes in the economy.

But according to Selena Kongpreecha, a staff representative in negotiations with the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and a negotiator for UBC Child Care Services, because the province follows its cooperative gains mandate, bargaining could prove to be difficult.

"Employers (including UBC) have to find cost savings from within their operations in order to provide modest pay increases," she said.

Lucie McNeill, UBC's director of public affairs, told The Tyee that the university is bound to the Employers Council Cooperative mandate until April 30, 2014. But she says that the gender equity point was never brought to the table in formal negotiations with the university.

"It may have been what underpins it (their negotiations), but not what is formally at the table," she said.

Kongpreecha said that the union is formally seeking "professional wages," because the ECEs are college-graduated, government certified professionals, but the gender pay equity aspect is an important reason why they're seeking a higher wage.

ECEs are also seeking consistent access to computers with an Internet connection, allocated time for staff meetings, preparation time for activities, and increased time with administration, as not everyone has regular access to them.

The ECEs began voting to strike on Dec. 11 and they will continue voting until Dec. 18. Negotiations between the university and the union broke down on Nov. 28. They will begin mediation with the university in the new year.

The ECEs say they hope to achieve "equitable wages" by March 8, 2013, International Women's Day.

Rachel Bergen is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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