That this House urge the government to recognize the principle of economic equality between women and men and to implement measures, in areas of federal jurisdiction, to guarantee women equity in employment, wages and living conditions.
Mr. Speaker, in 1967, the United Nations proclaimed March 8 International Women's Day. Today, 17 years later, this day of thought remains essential to the furtherance of the cause of women. While much progress has been made, women continue to suffer social, economic and cultural discrimination.
To make a progress report on the status of women as we celebrate Women's Day would be a colossal task, a real feat, especially considering that each and every woman in Quebec and Canada is living her status as a woman in her own way. Women have to fight for their rights and dignity in various ways depending on their socio-cultural environment, values, age, background and civil status.
At one end of the spectrum you have women who have chosen to stay at home and at the other end, women who have decided to combine career and family. In between, there is a large number of women who have no other choice but to stay at home for lack of adequate resources to get integrated in the labour market. Future generations will not accept such constraints imposed by outdated social patterns and attitudes, constraints which overlook the legitimate needs of 52 per cent of the population.
Constraints put on women take many forms, but all describe the same reality: inequity and disparities. My remarks today will deal with inequity in employment, wage disparities, inequity within the family, inequity in tax treatment. While the status of every woman may be different, each has already encountered this bottom line, inequity and disparities.
Countless speeches, reports, inquiries, petitions, briefs, testimonies and statistics have been presented to this House in support of women. All hon. members, past and present, have been made aware of their problems. One can wonder how many more economic inequities and acts of violence women will have to suffer and how many more barriers to autonomy they will have to encounter before the government takes concrete steps and fulfil its social leadership responsibility. For justice to be served, the government must pass proactive legislation to guarantee equality between women and men, while fulfilling its commitments to women.
Equality between women and men should first be assessed in economic terms. This is very basic. As we know, the most common source of income is employment earnings. Recent statistics show a $11,000 gap between the average earnings of women and those of men. This discrepancy is explained mainly by the fact that the majority of women have low-paid jobs in retail, clerical and service trades.
In 1992, part time jobs represented 16.8 per cent of all jobs in this country and we know that more and more jobs are part time. Seventy per cent of part time jobs are held by women. The fact of the matter is that the main characteristics of these jobs, besides meagre wages, are a lack of career opportunities and a lack of training, as opposed to full time jobs. Also, it has been established that working part time reduced chances of finding
stable full-time employment after having been unemployed, thus increasing considerably the risks of joining the ranks of the non-working population.
In Quebec, in 1992, 24 per cent of working women worked part time, as compared to 9 per cent of men. Given the unavailability of full-time jobs, a certain portion of part-time work could be considered as hidden unemployment and in Quebec, for example, there are 113,000 women-twice as many women as men-in that situation. If these women were considered to be unemployed, their unemployment rate would climb from 11.9 per cent to 19.5 per cent, while that of men would increase from 13.4 per cent to 16.4 per cent.
In its report made public in July 1993, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women noted that, although the media give more coverage to massive layoffs affecting men, women are in a particularly disquieting situation. Those who lose their jobs during a recession have less chance of finding new jobs afterwards. Between 1981 and 1984, 25 per cent of laid-off women did not return to the workforce, compared with 12 per cent of laid-off men.
I emphasize today that the creation of full-time, long-lasting and well-paid jobs must be among the Canadian government's top priorities. In this regard, I find it deplorable that this government's only concrete measure to create jobs is the infrastructure program. This so-called godsend will in fact contribute very little to the improvement of women's economic situation. Is this how the government demonstrates its interest in striking an equitable balance in job access? Let us be serious: the only jobs, even short-term jobs, likely to be created are almost exclusively in employment sectors traditionally dominated by men such as construction, transport and primary industry where heavy-machinery operators, road workers and labourers are needed.
We must also underline and condemn the emphasis put by the federal government on reducing labour costs. The freeze on salaries and levels in the public service as well as personnel reduction plans have had disastrous effects on the economic situation of women, who account for 45 per cent of all federal public servants. Between now and 1996, the government will make cuts totalling around $1.5 billion. The Canadian Union of Public Employees predicts that women will be hit harder, since they are found in part-time jobs, even precarious, casual part-time jobs, in the Canadian public service.
For example, while women hold 41 per cent of jobs in the administrative and foreign service category, they accounted for 51 per cent of laid-off workers. In the technical category, 58 per cent of laid-off workers are women, who only hold 15 per cent of all jobs. Women lose their jobs more often than men and their jobs do not pay as well.
We also learned that the government would close on March 31, 1994 the office of representation and employment orientation for women created in 1983 under a government strategy to increase women's representation at the management level. This office will be closed because an assessment conducted in 1993 indicated that the government had achieved its goals. The Public Service Alliance of Canada has challenged the conclusions of this assessment.
Allow me to express some reservations on these conclusions and to question the long-term effects of closing this office. All parents know how important role models are in teenagers' development. We have a right to ask how young girls who need such role models will be able to identify with successful career women if we water down the measures to increase their numbers in the public service.
It should be obvious that a responsible government must act to remove barriers to women's full participation in the workforce. To achieve this, the government should strive to eliminate job segregation still alive today, which is the main obstacle to job equity.
The need to act is all the more urgent, in job training for instance, that the key sectors for job creation in the medium term are identified as those traditionally dominated by men. In Quebec, this amounts to 80 per cent of the jobs that will be created in the next ten years.
The government must show leadership and seek to increase the presence of women in all fields of employment and at all levels. It must continue to reduce wage gaps and encourage the adoption of human resource management practices based on equity. What does it say about our society when our own government does not respect the measures and laws in place!
In 1992, the previous government ignored the recommendations and rulings on pay equity rendered in 1991 by the Human Rights Commission. In 1993, an inquiry by this commission concluded that Canada Post paid its female employees $2,500 less for duties, skills, responsibilities and working conditions that were identical to those of men. The Commission concluded that the Canadian Human Rights Act was ineffective and not credible.
Furthermore, at a press conference in March 1993, the Chief Commissioner pointed out that women in the Canadian Public Service earned 30 per cent less than their male colleagues. He also emphasized that economic disparities between men and women in Canada were a flagrant contradiction of our country's national and international commitments.I would remind you that in 1981 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women,
and under this convention Canada promised to respect the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
At the United Nations World Conference on Women in Kenya in 1985, Canada also adopted action strategies to promote women, a project to ensure women's equality in UN member countries by the year 2000. Where are we today with these commitments? Is it not ironic that the theme chosen by Status of Women Canada is women's equality-towards 1995!
In that organizations's pamphlet, we read that this is also the time to ask what still remains to be done for women to become full and equal partners in society.
I dare suggest that the government implement these fine words with its own female employees. These women would hardly be surprised to learn that the United Nations human development index for 1993 puts Canada only in 11th place for the status of women, compared to 8th place before.
Tax legislation is another reason for women's economic inequality. Allowing alimony paid for children to be deductible from income tax is systemic discrimination against women, since women in most cases still have child custody. By taking that approach, the law in a way rewards the ex-husband who does not have custody of the children and penalizes and impoverishes the former wife who has custody. By extension, the children are also penalized. This law, which goes back to 1942, in no way reflects today's reality.
On behalf of all women, I call for the abolition of this tax measure. I also ask for a thorough study of the unfairness of tax legislation to families.
Having considered the economic conditions of working women with children, I will now deal with the economic situation of unemployed women.
The government's recent cuts and budget restrictions affecting unemployment insurance will very clearly have a negative impact on the living conditions of many low-income women. The Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women points out that many people affected by these restrictions are single parents and that only the poorest people will be entitled to have their UI benefits increased to 60 per cent of their salary.
To be eligible to this tiny increase, women will have to declare their dependents and allow UI program officials free access to personal information regarding their family. I denounce this new form of interference in the private life of poor women. I denounce this form of humiliation that the government wants to impose upon them and which is tantamount to a violation of their dignity.
Another form of violation of the dignity of women is the violence to which they are subjected within the family. In its recent report, the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women points out that this abuse is unlikely to stop, as long as women are not treated equally. The government will have to take that into consideration when it decides on the measures required to put a stop to violence against women. Is there any need to remind the House of the promises made in that regard? I have no choice but to say that those promises were certainly not implemented in the recent budget.
In this respect, we wonder about the impact of the 5 per cent cuts to the funds allocated to various organizations. I am thinking here of those 376 battered women's homes in Canada, which form the main support network for women and whose usefulness has been demonstrated. Women of all ages now speak out and denounce the violence to which they are subjected. But what good is that if the government makes cuts in the budgets allocated to organizations which are in a position to provide concrete help?
Police officers, judges and lawyers are also involved in the issue of violence against women. Did the government meet its commitment to allocate the necessary funds to train these people and make them aware of the need for a different kind of approach regarding these victims and their abusers?
In conclusion, I believe that the basic principle of economic equality between women and men is far from being a priority for this government. I am talking of course of real, not verbal priority. Indeed, one wonders if the government has the will to facilitate access to jobs for women and to help them keep working. The Liberals made a nice promise to the effect that they would create 150,000 day-care spaces. We now know that this will not be the case. Indeed, by imposing as a condition a 3 per cent annual growth for the GDP, the government has put this project on the back burner. Even the Minister of Finance admitted in the House yesterday that such growth would not occur for three years. Once again, the government shows how little it cares about family needs, and particularly the needs of women.
We must change the course of history which, unfortunately, tells us that it is events such as wars and revolutions which best promote the participation of women in the workforce. These conflicts force the government to call upon women to replace men at work. When this happens, women are offered training sessions to become mechanics, welders or electricians. The skills of women are then put to full use. Daycare centres are created to make it easier for women to go to work. However, once those conflicts end, the men come back and politicians send the women home, offering them minimal compensation in the form of allowances to encourage them to do so.
We want economic equality between women and men. We want the recognition of the principle of equality but, more importantly, we want the implementation of the necessary measures to ensure that equality now.