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Premier Clark may pay price for lagging women's earnings in BC: report author

Women who work in B.C. are earning comparably less than women in the rest of Canada and public policy is to blame, says a new report.

One person who may pay a big price for that is Premier Christy Clark, says the Simon Fraser University professor who authored the findings.

Economist Marjorie Griffin Cohen's report, just published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, compared earnings of all females in B.C., including full-time, part-time, and part-year workers with the Canadian average of that group.

"BC Disadvantage for Women: Earnings Compared with Other Women in Canada" also compares women's wages to men's in B.C. and in Canada and then discusses the ways in which B.C. has lagged in its support for working women, including:

• Through the B.C. Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act in 2002, 8,000 health care workers who did cleaning, food preparation, laundry and other hospital work lost their jobs. The majority of these workers were women. Private multinational companies took over and rehired some, but the wages dropped from about $17.50 per hour to as low as $10.00 per hour. Women hold most of the low-wage positions in B.C., either at or near minimum wage.

• Minimum wage was kept at $8 per hour from 2001 to 2011. By 2011 it was the lowest in the country.

• A two-year wage freeze was instituted in 2009 for all public sector employees, the majority of whom are women.

• And the B.C. government eliminated the ministry for women's equality, the human rights commission, and funding for women's centres.

Griffin Cohen found B.C. women on average earn 65 per cent of what males make. Nationally, the figure is 68 per cent.

She sees political implications for Premier Clark.

In a Georgia Straight commentary, Griffin Cohen said, "In general, women have fared poorly under the governments of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, and many would have noticed this in their paychecks."

According to an Ipsos Reid poll, the BC New Democrats have a 33 point lead among women with 57 per cent support for Adrian Dix's NDP versus the 24 per cent support for Christy Clark's BC Liberals.

Griffin Cohen said Clark's focus on jobs and putting families first won't work without programs that address the issues of low pay and inequality in fields primarily worked by women.

"Until these kinds of programs are designed to recognize the needs of working women, and have specific goals to improve women's wages, women in B.C. will continue to trail the nation in earnings," Griffin Cohen said.

Canada isn't doing very well when it comes to gender wage parity, either.

The report cited the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which found that Canada is the sixth worst country in gender income inequality between males and females.

"Both levels of government in Canada have a responsibility for the policy directions that relate to earnings inequality; at both the federal and provincial levels, public policy for women has been undermined by neoliberal approaches to government," she said in the report.

The B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training (which is also responsible for labour) were contacted, but did not respond in time for the deadline.

Rachel Bergen is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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