Evidence of meeting #55 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 leave.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Carole Gingras  Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec
Meg Gingrich  Research Representative, National Office, United Steelworkers
Debora De Angelis  Regional Director, Ontario, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada
Anne Day  Founder and President, Company of Women
Linda Davis  First Vice-President, Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women
Laura Munn-Rivard  Committee Researcher

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Sure.

The laws of supply and demand don't change just because you dictate the value of something. The true value of the wage is how the market will take it, with supply and demand. To raise the value of labour it's based, usually, on scarcity. When the economy is chugging along and people are hard to find, the value of the labour goes up.

What you're doing is putting a cap on what employers should do and pay. I believe everyone deserves a fair wage—don't get me wrong. I'm just saying you see what's happening now in the industry. Raising the minimum wage will put more of those people who we are all trying to help out of work, because it's happening right now.

9:15 a.m.

Regional Director, Ontario, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada

Debora De Angelis

We've also seen situations in other places in the world, in Europe particularly, where they pay much higher than a minimum wage and their economies are still moving.

Did you want to comment?

9:15 a.m.

Research Representative, National Office, United Steelworkers

Meg Gingrich

It's what I was saying before to Ms. Ludwig's question. There are numerous studies that show that's simply not true. This idea that the market just dictates everything as if there's no interference as it stands, or that the values that exist right now in people's wages are absent or separate from all sorts of other historical discrimination and assumptions about what types of work are more valuable than others, is simply untrue. That's why we call for things like pay equity legislation as well, and job evaluation where you can actually see that women, in particular, are not paid an equal wage for work of equal value.

I don't really agree with that fully. I think from an economic standpoint in places that have higher base wages or collectively bargained wages that are higher, in northern Europe and places like that, or even in the States where they've started implementing some of these $15 minimum wages, you don't see these mass layoffs or this replacement with automation.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Yes, you do. Absolutely, you do.

9:20 a.m.

Research Representative, National Office, United Steelworkers

Meg Gingrich

[Inaudible—Editor]

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

I'm sorry. That's the end of your time.

I want to remind the committee members that we still have a witness on the phone, Carole Gingras. If you want to ask her a question, you'll have to direct it to her because she's having trouble jumping into the conversation.

We'll go now to Ms. Malcolmson for seven minutes.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thanks to all three witnesses. We are going to get lots of material from your testimony already. I will try to ask three questions in my seven minutes.

The first, I think, is for the steelworkers more than anything. I want to say thank you for your union's work on leave provisions for victims of domestic violence. You've been able to negotiate that into a couple of contracts, and it's starting to affect provincial legislation—up to four weeks of paid leave for domestic violence, and up to five months of unpaid leave, although I understand that, on average, women are only taking something like three days to get their lives back in order. In any case, they don't need to lose their jobs because they have been victims of domestic violence at home.

We've been hearing at this panel that the cost to the Canadian economy is tremendous, $12 billion. Given that, I was disappointed that the federal budget two weeks ago included spending only within the federal government—$20 million a year, as opposed to the $500 million to fund a domestic violence national action plan that NGOs were asking for.

Can you talk a little about how the government could take the leadership to make it a standard that women experiencing violence can take the time they need to get to safety and rebuild their lives?

9:20 a.m.

Research Representative, National Office, United Steelworkers

Meg Gingrich

Manitoba, I believe, has passed legislation that provides for protected leave. The federal government could do something similar to create some sort of domestic violence leave that's protected for a certain number of days or even weeks, with some income replacement. I think it's as simple as passing legislation—not that this is always easy—that provides leave for domestic violence similar to other types of leave that we have for compassionate care or whatever it may be.

We already have a system of leaves, which we argue needs to be improved, but it can fall within that and they can really take a leadership role on that. We've been pushing for it through collective bargaining, as you said, but we want it to be universal for all women and all victims of domestic violence, regardless of whether they are in a union.

April 6th, 2017 / 9:20 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Great. Thank you.

This is for any of the three witnesses. I want to talk a little about Bill C-27. This is a bill that is now in Parliament for debate, and it modifies pension benefits. We are concerned that it threatens the defined benefit plans that women in particular rely on. We've already heard witnesses at this committee say that they are concerned about Bill C-27. Jennifer Howard, from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said, “If we have seen a decrease in poverty among senior women, good pensions is one of the biggest causes of it”.

I see that the steelworkers at least, and maybe UFCW as well, has written to Minister Morneau asking for Bill C-27 to be withdrawn and for defined benefits to be protected.

I am interested to know whether you have received an answer to that letter. Also, can you talk a bit more about why eliminating defined benefits is so harmful for women, especially elderly women without other sources of income?

9:20 a.m.

Research Representative, National Office, United Steelworkers

Meg Gingrich

Defined benefits are always, as we say, the gold standard of pension plans. They are extremely important for maintaining economic security. Historically, especially when they were excluded from paid labour at the same level as men, women were often not covered by pension plans of any type, including CPP or any type of workplace plan. OAS and GIS have been extremely instrumental in reducing seniors' poverty, particularly for single women.

The Canadian pension system is designed in a way that it has to be supplemented by private plans, whether that third pillar is through your private savings or a workplace plan. We see that through private savings people simply cannot put enough money away to save as much as they will need in retirement through RRSPs, TFSAs, or whatever mechanism it may be. People's wages are stagnating, debt is increasing, and people simply cannot save as much money as they're told they are supposed to.

Defined benefit plans are the best way to supplement the public pension system. They should not be at the expense of the public pension system or anything like that, but having that defined, reliable income in retirement that the employer is required to fund properly—they have solvency funding requirements and things like that, which ensure they're actually funding their pension plans—is something that we need to maintain to make sure that people have a reliable income in retirement and that it can't simply be changed at any time. The strict funding rules that go along with having defined benefit plans ensure, to some extent at least, that those will actually be funded, and they are funded collectively in a way that private plans are not.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thanks.

Is there anything that other witnesses want to add on that?

9:25 a.m.

Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Carole Gingras

May I speak, please?

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Yes.

9:25 a.m.

Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Carole Gingras

Thank you.

There is a problem. Every time I want to speak, I am not able to do so, because I do not have access to the mic. So I am quite unhappy.

Regarding defined benefits, I support what was just said. On the question of pension plans, I want to point out that women, overall, are much poorer than men, because they have lower wages and they have less capacity to save money than men. There are still too few private pension plans. More women than men retire before age 65 because of family obligations, the jobs they hold, and their difficult working conditions. In addition, their life expectancy is much longer. As a result, they need a public pension plan, to be able to count on an acceptable income.

Public pension plans are the only ones that, at least partially, take into account women's unpaid work in their families, whether with children or family members who have lost autonomy or are sick, and so they help to advance equality between men and women. In our opinion, it is important that the public plans stay in place and that they be enhanced. When it comes to the entire question of defined benefits, it is important to preserve them, because, otherwise, women will be increasingly impoverished. They have so much trouble saving money, given the wages they earn. They will be doubly penalized. That is what I wanted to say.

Since I have the floor, I want to tell you that I would have had a lot of things to say on the subject of work schedules and work-family balance. In Quebec, we have done studies with the universities and workplaces on this subject, and I would have liked to talk to you more about that. I would also have liked to talk to you about linkages with child care services, but I was unable to speak. The system is not working. That is what I wanted to say.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Very good. We'll make sure that we address this and try to include you in each response.

We're going now to my colleague Ms. Damoff, for seven minutes—

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

No.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Oh, I'm sorry.

It's Ms. Nassif.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to thank our witnesses for their presentations.

As the only female member from Quebec who sits on this committee, I would like to address Ms. Gingras, who has expressed her interest in making a few remarks on this subject.

Your union was part of the union delegation that participated in the session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held in March 2017. In fact, I had the pleasure of being part of that delegation, as were many of my colleagues here today. We also had the privilege of having the minister, Ms. Thériault, with us. The delegation asked the government to take measures on several issues, including access to suitable jobs for all women, to workplaces organized around families, to child care services, and to care for the elderly.

Ms. Gingras, can you describe for us what you mean by suitable jobs for all women? In your opinion, what is a workplace organized around families, child care and care for the elderly?

9:25 a.m.

Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Carole Gingras

I do not know whether I understand your second question properly. I am going to begin by answering the first one about suitable jobs.

Having a suitable job means having a job that offers acceptable working conditions and an acceptable wage. Just now, we were talking about the connections with the minimum wage. On that point, there are a great many working women and men who are still earning minimum wage.

This gives me the chance to say that in Quebec, we have experience with workplaces that, in 2016 and 2017, tried to negotiate, with unions, working conditions and wages above $15 an hour, in retirement homes, in particular. We were able to do that. Employers have shown themselves to be sensitive to that. There are beneficial effects because the employees are much more satisfied. It also allows for better relationships to be established when it comes to labour relations and employee retention.

Coming back to the subject of suitable jobs, we are talking about good working conditions. We are talking about working conditions that enable women to be comfortable in the work they do, whether in terms of schedules or work-family balance. We also have to enable these women to have access to leave not only when a child is born, but also when parents or family members are sick. We have to make a connection with labour standards, with the Quebec parental insurance plan, and with child care services. I talked about that a little. As I was saying earlier, that is important, because having good child care services that are educational and accessible enables women to keep working and to have access to employment. There is also the entire question of pension plans. That is connected with acceptable work too. Having an acceptable job includes being able to count on an acceptable pension when you get on in years. That is important, and it is also important to provide women with adequate incomes. I could mention several other elements.

Could you remind me of the second question, please?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Yes.

In your experience, would access to workplaces that are organized around the family increase women's economic security. If so, why?

9:30 a.m.

Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Carole Gingras

That is clear. It ties in with what I was just saying.

Good services enable women to go to work with peace of mind, because the children are being cared for. They are not just being placed in day care. The service is of high quality, and there are trained specialized educators working there. Once those services are offered, it enables women to go to work with their minds at rest, to count on safe services, and have the means to obtain them. We are talking about universal access: it means that women, and also men, can count on these services and have the means to do that.

I said this in my presentation. The evidence can be seen in Quebec. From the time when educational child care services were created, women's labour market participation rate rose significantly, particularly for women with young children. When we compare the situation with the situation elsewhere in Canada, there is a gap between the two, and the situation is much better in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. There are studies that prove this.

It is also very beneficial for the children. The positive effects of these services have been documented; for example, they give children from disadvantaged backgrounds equal access. That enables them to socialize and to prepare for kindergarten, and so on. There is no doubt about this: these are important services. I know that the Quebec example is cited in Canadian discussions, and there is good reason for that. The system in Quebec has proven itself, and that matters.

Everything is not perfect in Quebec. Budget cuts have done harm in recent years. Early childhood centres have suffered cuts. Child care services have closed their doors. There is also the entire question of the subsidies that have to be allocated so the network can be expanded, because different services are offered. There are subsidized services and other services that are not subsidized. Nonetheless, we have a system that is worthwhile and beneficial. There is no doubt about that.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

I think you spoke earlier about the fact that unionization influences women's economic prosperity. Could you explain how it does that?

9:30 a.m.

Director, Status of Women Service, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Carole Gingras

Once women workers unionize, they have access to support from a union to obtain services, to represent them, to talk to their employer, and to make sure that provisions are negotiated that go beyond what the laws say, whether in terms of hours of work, breaks, vacation, overtime, wages, or pension plans. It enables them to do that, there is no doubt about it.

The statistics tell the story. Once working women unionize, it makes a significant difference, particularly regarding the wage gap between men and women. Their wages and benefits are improved.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Okay. Now we'll go to my colleague Ms. Vecchio for five minutes.