Ontario midwives take legal action for pay equity
TheStar.com – Life – Group argues province discriminates against its female workforce
Nov 27 2013. By: Andrea Gordon
Ontario’s midwives have filed a human rights complaint against the province, arguing they’ve been subject to gender discrimination and robbed of fair pay for almost two decades.
The profession, almost exclusively female, wants the tribunal to put in place a pay equity mechanism that fairly reflects midwives’ role relative to other health-care workers, such as the mostly male family physicians in community health centres.
association is also seeking compensation for years of being underpaid, said Mary Cornish, a Toronto human rights and pay equity lawyer representing the group.
“I have never seen a case as dramatic as this in terms of this gap,” she said. “The gender penalty here is absurd.”
Cornish cited two reports by pay equity consultants which found that midwives earn a little more than half of what their work is worth. And she noted that pay equity, by law, is exempt from government fiscal restraints.
The midwives don’t have adequate data to put a real dollar value on their request, but it could potentially cost the Ministry of Health millions of dollars a year.
“This isn’t about a raise, it’s about the government living up to its own laws and valuing the work midwives do for their clients,” said Lisa Weston, president of the association, which represents almost 700 midwives in 100 clinics.
“The government does not value women (workers) or women’s health care.”
The application is unusual because it was made on behalf of an entire workforce and is one of the largest filed with the tribunal, which can refer cases to mediation or directly to a hearing.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday that funding for midwifery services including clinics, education and training, has increased fivefold since the Liberals took office in 2003 and since then, midwives’ pay has risen 33 per cent.
“Our government remains open to working with midwives on ways to further enhance their profession and their role in our health care system,” she said in a statement.
But at Queen’s Park, NDP Health Critic France Gélinas challenged Matthews to address the disparity.
“We know that the minister can talk a good game about the value of midwives, but can she tell us why she has ignored her obligations to pay equity to this female-dominated essential health care provider group?” she said in the legislature.
Midwives, trained and licensed by the province, care for mothers and babies from conception until six weeks postpartum. They typically handle 80 births a year and are on call around the clock for their clients.
When midwifery became part of the health-care system in 1994, a pay-equity analysis commissioned by the ministry determined salaries should be set slightly below those of family physicians, and above the rate fornurse practitioners.
Since then, their earnings have fallen significantly behind, according to two reports conducted for the association by pay equity expert Paul Durber and economist Hugh Mackenzie.
Durber concluded that based on job demands and training, midwives should be paid 91 per cent of what a family doctor earns, which would amount to $197,315 in 2013. But today, a full-time midwife earns $102,560 — or 53 per cent of a physician’s income — amounting to a gap of $94,755.
“It is my opinion that sex bias is operating in the unequal compensation being received by midwives,” he wrote.
Mackenzie’s review noted that midwives’ pay increased 33 per cent since 1994 versus 76 per cent for a family physician’s maximum pay, and at a much lower rate than nurses.
As independent contractors, they aren’t legally protected by the same labour laws as other public-sector workers.
Midwives received no pay raise between 1994 and 2005 and their wages have been frozen since 2011. Two increases in 2005 and 2008 didn’t make up the difference. Weston noted that several reports over the last two decades have called for pay hikes, including a third-party study commissioned by the ministry in 2010 that recommended a one-time wage increase of 20 per cent.
The province rejected the recommendation, despite giving pay increases to male-dominated correctional services and provincial police officers, the midwives say.
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