Women of Iceland stage nationwide strike protesting unequal pay

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

And Canada may feel the chill of the Icelandic air soon enough if our gender wage gap persists.

“You call this equality?”

 

This is the question women in Iceland posed on their 24-hour strike that virtually shuttered the nation on Oct. 24.

 

Icelandic women along with their Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdóttir, took part in the strike seeking pay equity and an end to gender-based violence. The walkout saw significant shutdowns across the nation, including the closing of schools and delays on public transit. Industries dominated by women workers, like healthcare and hospitality, saw massive disruption.

 

Even the national broadcaster reduced its television and radio broadcasts on the day of the strike. Local news channels featured all-male broadcasts.

 

Notably, the strike, termed as a “Kvennaverkfall” in Icelandic, went ahead despite Iceland being ranked by the World Economic Forum as the world’s most “gender-equal” country for over a decade. Notwithstanding the accolades, the country still suffers from a meaningful gender pay gap.

 

In an interview with NPR, the Communication Director for the Icelandic Federation of Public Workers, Freyja Steingrímsdóttir, pointed out that on the day of the strike, one saw only men driving their cars, and “you could see men with strollers, and stores were closed.”

 

She also noted indexes that paint Iceland as a leader in gender-equality don’t take into account gender-based sexual violence. Studies have shown almost 40% of women in Iceland experience sexual or gender-based violence in their lifetime.

 

On the issue of the wage gap, Icelandic women protested the undervaluing of women’s work in healthcare, childcare, cleaning, and other industries where women are the lowest paid in society.

 

How well does Canada fair?

 

As a nation, Canada ranked 25th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2022 – a far cry from Iceland’s first-place ranking.

 

As of 2021, Statistics Canada found the gender pay gap for full-time and part-time employees was 0.89. This means women make $0.89 for every dollar men make. This may not seem all that worrisome, but drilling into the numbers further, racialized women make only 59.3% of the earnings of a white male.

 

The gender wage gap is glaringly larger for racialized women, newcomers, those with disabilities, and Indigenous women.

 

Across the provinces, Ontario places 6th, with a 13% gender wage gap. The highest wage gaps are seen in Alberta and British Columbia at 17%.

 

In Ontario, as of 2022, the gender wage gap was the largest in the trades, transport, and equipment operator and related occupation industries, where women earned only $0.78 for every dollar earned hourly by men.

 

The disparity exists despite pay equity laws in Ontario, Quebec, and for federally-regulated employers. Other provinces address the issue of pay discrimination in their respective human rights legislation.

 

For those keeping score, Canada falls well behind other Scandinavian countries like Finland, Norway, and Sweden, but it also falls behind Rwanda, Namibia, and Nicaragua, all three of which have landed top 10 spots in the Report.

 

The Global Gender Gap Report projected a troubling future outcome that Canada needs to give some urgent attention to. That is, the deepening of the current cost-of-living crisis is likely to impact women more severely than men, since women earn and accumulate wealth at lower levels.

 

Of course, women were also more severely impacted by the pandemic when it comes to work, and the cost-of-living crisis will continue to perpetuate a wage gap if ignored.

 

Pay equity paper tiger legislation is not performing well in this country.

 

The answer lies within a need for more transparency around pay in both the public and private sectors. Anecdotally, I have represented a significant number of women in the last 18 months who all shared a similar concern and certainty that they were underpaid for the work they did.

 

Closing our nation’s wage gap won’t remain on the backburner for long. Canada may feel the chill of the Icelandic air soon enough.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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