* This commentary was pubished in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on September 17, 2014.
Home support workers in New Brunswick were happy to hear that they will be getting an increase thanks to the pay equity evaluation that the provincial government launched in 2006 and finished recently. That evaluation concluded that home support workers were getting $2.15 less per hour than they should have been. They will soon be getting what pay equity determines the job should be paid.
Or will they?
The New Brunswick pay equity evaluation was undertaken after much lobbying, over decades, by workers, women’s groups and unions.
But usually, in other jurisdictions, there is public debate, legislation, and an independent body directing how to do pay equity properly. How did we ensure that government did pay equity evaluation properly?
In New Brunswick, it seems governments just got ‘something’ done any old way.
Workers in home support, child care, transition houses and community residences had their job descriptions examined under the recent pay equity evaluation.
The results were astounding.
In this in-house government process, which went on under two governments, from 2006 to 2014, only four out of the dozen or so job categories studied were found to deserve significant pay adjustments. Three of those four were being paid close to minimum wage levels. (Thank you for minimum wage levels.)
Home support workers were lucky to be among those few who deserved something, eventually bringing their hourly pay to $13.15. Workers in child care centres responsible for special needs children were also found to be underpaid – by $2.52 per hour: their hourly wage will eventually be $12.52. Caregivers in adult community residences were found to be underpaid by $2.85 per hour, eventually bringing their wage to $14.80 per hour. Supervisors of adult caregivers, underpaid by $0.83 per hour, will eventually have an hourly wage just over $16.
But the astounding part was that the government concluded that the pay of most female-dominated jobs it examined was excessive. Administrators in the child care sector are paid $2.16 per hour too much. Support workers in transition houses are being paid $2.21 per hour too much, and outreach workers in transition houses, $5.39 per hour more than they are worth.
These jobs are paid less than similar jobs in other provinces, yet they are being paid too much? But New Brunswick’s cost of living is not significantly lower than the average across Canada.
The governments’ “made in New Brunswick” pay equity results seemed odd to me. They seemed odd to the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, too, so they asked distinguished economist and pay equity expert, Ruth Rose, of Montreal, to look at how our provincial government had done the pay equity evaluations.
A few months later, Ruth Rose reported back:
“We conclude that the pay equity exercise in the four sectors was deliberately distorted in order to reduce the cost to government. According to our calculations, the fair wage for employees in these services should be around 20$ per hour.” (translation)
After correcting the errors she found, Ruth Rose calculated that home support workers, for example, should receive $19.93 per hour – not $13.15.
What had gone wrong?
The New Brunswick government had “adapted” the accepted methods of doing a pay equity evaluation and each adaptation was guaranteed to reduce the chance of a salary adjustment to the workers. The details about what went wrong can get technical but here are a few of the problems identified.
Evaluation committees included only a minority of workers, an oddity.
In a pay equity exercise, it is common that the employer has no male-dominated jobs for comparison to the female-dominated ones under study, and so, one of the recommended practices is to use fictional jobs. Pretend that you want to hire a maintenance worker or a foreman in the same job site, write up a job description and set a salary according to the going rates, then compare that to the female-dominated jobs under study. New Brunswick said it was adopting the Quebec method, but it did not follow Quebec’s recommendations for calculating salaries for those pretend male job salaries. Quebec had documented its method, and those same arguments apply in New Brunswick. New Brunswick gave no reason to abandon that standard. That change by the New Brunswick government again reduced the chance that the pay equity evaluation would find that women’s jobs were underpaid.
Also the job descriptions the New Brunswick government used for the male comparator jobs were so puffed up, so over-estimated, that it guaranteed that women’s jobs in comparison would be seen to be worth less.
Finally, the salaries assigned to these inflated job descriptions for male jobs were lower than what is actually paid locally, and for no known reason, 2010 figures were used instead of 2011, which were used for other workers, lowering the male salaries in comparison.
All of these tweaks affected the results in one direction: they reduced the chance of finding pay inequity and they lowered the amount of pay adjustment that might have to be paid out to women’s jobs.
What is going on?