Posted: Monday, 5 May 2008
The purpose of this paper is to explore the impacts of unions on the pay of women and on pay inequality between women and men through the Gender and Work Database (GWD). The paper is highly empirical, and tries to use the Database, mainly derived from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, to explore and illustrate how unions shape the structure of wages as initially shaped by the occupational and sectoral distribution (or, better, segregation) of women and men. While the detail is hopefully of interest, the major findings are hardly novel: women in the private services sector, in particular, are at high risk of low pay, but enjoy little protection from union coverage which is concentrated among private sector men and public sector women. The cause of gender equality and decent work for women would be well-served if union strength could be increased among women in precarious private services jobs. For reasons of data availability and space, the paper does not separately explore union impacts on women workers of colour, Aboriginal women workers, and women workers with disabilities, all of whom are disproportionately represented in low paid and precarious jobs. (At the time of writing, the GWD did not contain hourly wage data for these groups.)
Parts 2 and 3 of the paper very briefly review some of the most relevant literature on gender inequality and precarious work, explored in the conceptual literature on the GWD and other papers being presented to this conference, and on union impacts on pay and wage inequality. (Further elaboration can be found in Jackson 2003 and 2004.) Part 4 provides empirical detail on union impacts on wages and wage gaps by “drilling down” from the workforce as a whole, to the public and private sectors, to broad occupational categories, to lower paid occupational groups in which women predominate. Part 5 offers a brief summary and conclusion.
Part 2. Gender Inequality and Precarious Work
While working women have made significant progress in terms of achieving equality of opportunity and outcomes with men, large and systematic differences in the labour market which are structured by gender remain clearly intact. The level of occupational and industrial segregation between women and men remains very high. Traditionally, men were relatively concentrated in blue-collar industrial occupations, as well as in white-collar management jobs and in the professions, while women were relatively concentrated in lower level, pink-collar clerical and administrative jobs in offices, and in low-pay, often part-time, sales and services occupations. This division has broken down to a limited degree over time as women have entered professional and managerial jobs in increasing numbers. But, women in better paid occupations are still mainly to be found in only a relatively few occupational groups, notably working in health, education, and social services jobs in the broader public sector.
The recent report of the federal government’s Pay Equity Task Force detailed the fact that women are still highly concentrated in a small number of traditionally female occupational categories -- health care, teaching, clerical, administrative, and sales and services jobs, and overwhelmingly predominate in the very lowest paid occupations, such as child care workers, cashiers, and food services workers. Women are still greatly under-represented in most of the highest paying professions, especially in the private sector. Even in the public sector where women predominate in professional jobs, men are much more likely to hold senior management positions. On top of this horizontal segregation, there is vertical segregation such that women within most broad occupational categories are also likely to be lower paid than men.