Evidence of meeting #49 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was women.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Diana Sarosi  Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam Canada
Jennifer Howard  Executive Director, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Lisa Kelly  Director, Women's Department, Unifor
Kate McInturff  Senior Researcher, National Office, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Vicky Smallman  National Director, Women's and Human Rights, Canadian Labour Congress
Angella MacEwen  Senior Economist, Canadian Labour Congress
Megan Hooft  Deputy Director, Canada Without Poverty
Michèle Biss  Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator, Canada Without Poverty
Alana Robert  As an Individual
Shania Pruden  As an Individual
Natasha Kornak  As an Individual
Anne Elizabeth Morin  As an Individual
Antu Hossain  As an Individual
Aygadim Majagalee Ducharme  As an Individual
Élisabeth Gendron  As an Individual

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Lisa, I have a question for you about leave for women who are being abused. Some of my friends from Unifor in Oakville have talked to me about that. It's predominantly within union contracts that it's been negotiated that women can take 10 days to just deal with life should they have to leave an abusive spouse. Can you speak to that at all?

9:30 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

Actually, about two weeks ago we bargained four weeks' paid leave with one of our employers for someone coming forward about her living with abuse.

Often there are three components to it—a women's advocate, paid domestic violence leave, and a protection against discipline. It often comes up when there are absentee issues and when there are other disciplinary issues, because there is an impact in the workplace. A woman, and sometimes a man, will come forward to talk about their home life and get support that way.

We've negotiated it. It's not taken up in big numbers. Australia actually did another study on how much it costs in their system, and it's only taken, on average, two days. It does allow for women to go to court, it allows for women who are in shelters to get their lives together that way, and it means the connection to the workplace continues. There was a study showing that one of the number one indicators of safety is economic security. Those things are really connected, as 8.5% of women have lost a job due to domestic violence. That was the pan-Canadian study that the University of Western Ontario and CLC did.

It's something you can legislate. Manitoba has done it. Ontario has a private member's bill. B.C. has a private member's bill. I think it was considered by the federal government in the flextime consultation. It's not something that would put a big burden on employers. It signals, really importantly, that women are supported in the workplace, and it addresses something that can be quite devastating to women's lives, including their working lives.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I've heard from women's groups in my riding about the need for it, so it seems like something that would be useful outside of just having the benefit of a union contract that can be negotiated for you.

9:35 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

Absolutely. Statistically, only 18% of private sector people are unionized. That leaves 82% of people uncovered by things that we can negotiate in our collective agreements. I wholeheartedly support putting that into basic employment standards across the country.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I want to talk a little bit more about universal child care. I worked when my child was young, and it was tough. A big part of the decision to have only one child was the cost. At the time, I had only three months away from work, and having a baby in child care was costing more than $2,000 a month.

One of the things we don't talk a lot about is the economic benefit to employers of having that, because a lot of women are forced to take time off work if their child is sick, or if, for example, they're using a babysitter as child care because it's cheaper, and then the babysitter is sick or something happens. Can you maybe talk about the economic benefits to the employer of universal child care?

9:35 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

Yes, and I'll be quick, because I feel as though I'm now hogging the time.

There's actually a Manitoba study about this sense of it being an economic benefit for women to provide child care in their homes. They want to take care of their own kids, so they take in a couple of other kids. They showed that there is a real churn involved, because as soon as their children become school-aged and need less care, they get out of the child care business. For the children who are in that home child care, we have that churning. Four out of five kids are in unlicensed child care right now, so absolutely having solid, reliable child care would help. In my own experience, I had a fantastic child care system, so that when I was peeling my crying toddler off my leg, I knew that was a momentary thing because the child was going into a place where children were not being abused; people were getting their breaks, and there were lots of checks and balances. It was licensed. My being able to to go to work and have my whole self at work while my children were actually learning there had a positive impact on my employer and on my presence there, and on my children eventually becoming workers.

9:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Jennifer Howard

There is also good research about the benefit of early childhood education to employers in that it produces citizens who are better educated, kids who are more ready for school and have better social skills. You can get all of those things outside of child care. In Manitoba, where I come from, we have a child care system that is funded by the government. The fees are capped. I never paid more than $600 a month in Manitoba for child care, and it's also open to parents who stay at home, so if you're a stay-at-home mom or dad, you can also bring your kid to nursery school a few times a week or once a week when you need a break or if you want that child to have interaction with other kids.

Manitoba is not a wealthy province, but we decided that children were worth that investment. The federal government has tremendous power to work with provinces so that all provinces can have those high-quality child care systems. There are long wait-lists. There is a problem with access, absolutely, but that can be addressed with investment.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Excellent.

Now we're going to round two of questions, starting with Ms. Harder for five minutes.

March 7th, 2017 / 9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you very much.

Thank you to each of you for taking the time to be with us this morning. I know that you're taking time out of your personal schedules, so we appreciate that.

My first question I'll direct to Lisa. A special committee was put together to study pay equity and where things are at in Canada right now. That study went on over the last year and then was put on hold and now sits as is. No report has been produced or tabled in the House of Commons.

In your estimation, is this a report that should be expedited and brought to the public's attention?

9:35 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

I think you have a great study from 2004. I don't think we need to keep going back and reinventing the wheel. I think almost all of those recommendations and situations are still accurate.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Well, we tabled a report—

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Has anything been done on the report?

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

That was responded to positively. They said there will be legislation in 2018.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I apologize. That is coming in 2018. That's what we're talking about.

9:35 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

That's our issue. We think because there's been such comprehensive study under a former Liberal government, that there isn't a need to do any more study. Although I recognize that there are some complexities, there's always a roll-in time that comes after the legislation comes into place, so the idea that we're getting everybody to get ready now, I think, is wasted time. I'll refer us back to the example of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the charter came into play, the equality section, which is section 15, governments were given three years to examine their laws and bring them up to an equality standard, and they didn't do that—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Sorry, in the interests of time, are you basically saying we need to take action? Is that essentially what you are saying?

9:40 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

Yes, absolutely.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Okay, thank you, Lisa.

I'm going to go to my next question.

Jennifer, I believe you brought this up. You talked about the wage gap and one of the things you said was that actually the wage gap is widening. I actually have a chart in front of me from Statistics Canada that would show me otherwise. This was produced as of 2016 and it actually shows me that the wage gap has plateaued at this moment.

I would also draw your attention—only because you brought attention to different governments in power—and that of the committee to the fact that when I look at this chart, the greatest increase in wages for women took place under Brian Mulroney, a Conservative. The second-greatest increase took place under Stephen Harper, also a Conservative. That is interesting to me. You're more than welcome to take a look at that chart to see the production that's been there for women and their wages.

Moving forward to my third comment or question, I'd like to talk about gender-dividing jobs. In particular, one of the things that I hear about from women over and over again, and we see this in the statistics as well, is access to STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math—and, of course, access to agriculture. These are two fields in which we don't traditionally see as many women as men.

Diane, I'd actually be interested in your thoughts. How could we encourage women to enter into these different fields in order to help them engage in these areas?

9:40 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam Canada

Diana Sarosi

While the agriculture sector might be dominated by males here in Canada, in the rest of the world it isn't. It's actually women farmers who are doing most of the agriculture work. There are lots of different programs and policies that can be in place to empower women to enter that area. A big part of that is, of course, land access, right? In order to do so, they require capital and the skills, so it would require training, capital, and just changes in policies that provide them with access.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Would you be able to specifically outline how we could take some of those barriers down so that women could enter STEM and agriculture to a greater degree?

9:40 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam Canada

Diana Sarosi

It's done by, first of all, investing in training programs, and then making laws. I don't know the specific context here in Canada in terms of women's access to land, but anywhere in the world, access to capital is a real challenge for women. We see that with small business owners. Most of the small businesses led by women are just one person, and they have a hard time growing their businesses because they don't have the access to capital that men do. That's definitely a huge barrier.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Now we're going to go to Ms. Nassif for five minutes.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you also to the witnesses for their presentation.

My question is for Ms. Kelly.

You talked about access to employment and employment equity, but I would like to talk about Unifor, which implemented the women's advocate program to prevent violence against women and workplace harassment.

Can you explain how this program works? How do women in your union benefit from this program? What results have you achieved since the inception of this program?

9:40 a.m.

Director, Women's Department, Unifor

Lisa Kelly

As I said, we have about 350 women's advocates across the country. It's something that is bargained with an employer. The employer recognizes this person, similar to a steward, whose role is to assist women and men in the workplace, although we know that the overwhelming majority of survivors of domestic violence are women. The advocate is given resources such as, in our large employers, a dedicated phone line, ways of accessing the woman. They'll meet, or where we have federal employers across the country, sometimes that's contact done over the phone.

Those women go through a 40-hour training program put on by Unifor and a yearly update that advises them not only on the underlying elements of domestic violence, but also what the resources are in their community. They become very familiar with where the resources are that they can refer women to. They're able to assist them in working through any job implications if they have to have an absence from their job, or sometimes there are issues around safety.

For example, we had someone in the airlines whose partner went to jail for domestic violence. When he was released, she was in a public place, so the union worked with the employer to say, where in the workplace might she move to that the public can't get access to?

Similarly, we had a situation in a nursing home, again a place that the public comes into. What's the safety planning there? What are the protocols that you need to actually go through to ensure that the woman is safe at work?

In Ontario, we had the murder of Theresa Vince; we had the murder of Lori Dupont in the workplace. In B.C., there was actually the murder of a manager who was intervening in the attempted murder of one of the workers. These things happen in the workplace, and the women's advocate has that 40 hours of training to know what to do there and how to reach out.