Thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of your discussion today.
The CLC, as you know, is the largest labour organization in Canada, bringing together dozens of national and international unions, provincial and territorial federations of labour and community-based labour councils to represent more than three-million workers across the country. More than half of these workers are women, many working in the sectors most devastated by this pandemic, who were finally recognized as essential to protecting the health and well-being of our communities.
It's difficult to capture in a brief five minutes the many ways that women workers and women's jobs have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. You've heard from others today about the disproportionate impact on women who have lost jobs or have reduced their hours and income in order to care for children or other family members, and the pressures that are going to be continuing through subsequent waves of the pandemic.
I would like to add that the hardest hit are low-wage and precarious workers and those who already face marginalization and discrimination: black and indigenous women, women of colour, women with disabilities, migrants and newcomers.
While women bore the brunt of the job losses, they've also been on the front lines of this pandemic doing the work that keeps our communities healthy, safe, fed and supported. The work in these essential sectors is often invisible, undervalued and unrecognized; marked with poor working conditions, exposure to violence and harassment and other health and safety risks; and with limited job security and access to benefits, including paid sick leave.
The pandemic brought many of these realities to the surface and brought new or greater risks and inequities, such as a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 for those workers who are mostly black and indigenous women, women of colour, migrants and recent immigrants. Unlike other countries, women make up the majority of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and more women than men have lost their lives.
We also know that women have not benefited equally from the gradual reopening of the economy. Again, the most marginalized are the most impacted. A key reason for the slow recovery is women's unpaid work caring for children and family members. The pandemic has placed many women in a very impossible situation, and something has to give.
We have seen women's labour force participation set back more than 30 years. Unless we address some of the profound structural barriers, recovery from what many have dubbed the “she-cession” will be long and difficult. Among the most challenging of these barriers is women's unfair share of unpaid care work. This committee has an opportunity to make a strong case for a gender-responsive recovery aimed at restoring women's labour force participation, creating decent jobs and narrowing the gender wage gap, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work, and disaster proofing our social safety net. Feminist recovery would centre the needs of the most impacted and ensure that no one is left behind.
We need a jobs plan that invests in the sectors where women work and in the services that women and families rely on. That's the caring economy. Care is a vital part of Canada's social infrastructure and is an economic generator. Quality public services and social infrastructure, such as child care, elder care and other social services, cannot only create decent jobs, they help boost labour force participation overall by reducing the burden of unpaid care work.
However, decades of austerity-driven fiscal policies and a market-based approach to the delivery of care have created inequities and gaps. Our economy is relying more than ever on women's unpaid labour, and also on precarious low-wage women workers, a disproportionate number of whom are racialized. Canada needs a care-focused solution for the recovery. We can't just apply band-aid solutions to a crisis that has been building for some time.
That's why we're proposing, among other investments in child care, health care and long-term care, a federal care economy commission to do the following: study, design and implement a care strategy for Canada that would create a broad and inclusive labour market strategy to achieve high-quality, equitable care jobs; examine paid and unpaid care work; and develop a road map to meet the increasing demands for care and reduce and redistribute women's unpaid care work by improving access to public care services for children, the elderly and people living with disabilities.
There's a lot more to discuss. I'm hoping that we'll get to it in the question period.
From our point of view, our plan, which we put together in our Forward Together campaign, is rooted in our ways of doing things. That means taking care of each other. Public investments in services, not austerity, are a key part of a robust response and recovery that ensures our collective well-being.