News / Toronto

'Working for Free Day' highlights gender pay gap, advocates say

Ontario women earn two-thirds what their male peers do. With a third of the year remaining, from Sept. 22 onward it's as if they're working for free, advocates say.

Toronto lawyer Fay Faraday has studied Canada’s temporary foreign worker and seasonal agricultural worker programs for decades and says a lack of political will has resulted in a system engineered to provide cheap, vulnerable workers.

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Toronto lawyer Fay Faraday has studied Canada’s temporary foreign worker and seasonal agricultural worker programs for decades and says a lack of political will has resulted in a system engineered to provide cheap, vulnerable workers.

Women: you're basically working for free from now until 2018.

That's the message advocates want to send this Friday — a day held up as a stark reminder of the pay gap between men and women.

The Toronto-based Equal Pay Coalition, a group of trade unions and advocacy groups, calculates Ontario women earn two-thirds what their male peers do. With a third of the year remaining, from Sept. 22 onward it's as if they're working for free, advocates say.

It's a statistic that must be made infamous, said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women's Foundation.

“Never stop agitating. Never stop advocating. Never stop complaining about these issues,” said Senior.

Marking the day helps make an abstract concept more concrete, says Fay Faraday, a lawyer and co-chair of the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition.

“It gives people a visceral sense of the scale of the harms that are being done," she said. "But also the toll it takes on one, mentally and socially, that you’re putting in work of equal value and not being rewarded for it.”

Though the day doesn't come with the fanfare of April's Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into the year women must work to earn what their male peers did by the end of December, Faraday says she's been marking it for more than a decade.

In that time she's seen encouraging signs, including this week's UN announcement of a new global coalition aimed at closing the gap.

Speaking at the UN on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his government's plans to introduce pay equity legislation in 2018 for federally regulated industries.

In Ontario, Faraday called Bill 148 — the provincial Liberals' proposed changes to workplace legislation — "a real opportunity." The bill aims to end loopholes like unequal pay for part-time, seasonal and temporary workers, positions disproportionately filled by women.

Advocates would like to see the legislation go further in other areas, including a minimum two-weeks notice for work schedules to allow for things like child-care arrangements.

“This is not an individual thing," Faraday said. "This is a really deep structural problem.”

Senior echoed Faraday's calls to speak out on the bill.

“Maybe it’s not easy, but certainly it’s possible,” she said. "We just need to be committed."

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