Nurses are salaried professionals, but they are still heavily paid relative to their male counterparts. When we compare male and female nurses in Ontario, we find differences in pay rates for the same tasks: 1.2-percent more men worked an equivalent shift to qualify for the pay increase; 1.2-percent more men remained the same level in their salaries for 5 months; 1.3-percent more women remained the same level for less than 1 month; and 1.8-percent more women stayed at the same level longer than 1 month.
Compare that to higher pay for different tasks, as nurses in Ontario do. In Ontario, overall nurse pay grew by 6 percent between 2016 and 2017 – 5.8-percent of that is higher pay for the same role. But the difference in pay for different tasks is almost entirely for women: 59 percent of the difference between pay for similar tasks is women-specific, and another 19 percent is men-specific.
These are just six measures of different kinds of work within Ontario’s health care system where all types of women are paid less than the same men – or more. This might also be true across provincial and district health-care systems across Canada.
It is worth noting, however, that Ontario has since 2017 been the only health care system in Canada to require certain measures of wages to be included in “indeterminate salaries.” In other words, this new form of pay raises the percentage of payments to women – but doesn’t restrict the types of tasks and situations where those women receive different pay from their male counterparts. An additional issue is the differences in pay for domestic positions.
Ontario can do better.
Ontario’s health-care unions agree with the findings we report, and are making broad recommendations to improve the pay of nurse practitioners and others. This includes:
Reducing wage gap to eliminate wage inequity, and removing all wage inequities;
Requiring employers to use available information to compare the productivity of similar positions and to reduce to eliminate disparities of comparable industries;
Ensuring that gender-equitable compensation is tied to basic and necessary skills;
Ensuring that both parties must demonstrate their knowledge about skills that are required by patients;
Ensuring that employers treat both men and women equally.
If employers could be held responsible for the pay inequities that exist and vice versa, the fight for equality could be much more effective. That’s why Ontario’s health-care unions have proposed that:
Employers will no longer be able to use outside consultants to determine nurse compensation
Workers will be able to determine their own compensation
Employers and unions will have to establish best practices for treating employees and contractors equally
Hospital systems will have to be mandated to ensure that their employees receive the same wages based on the same criteria and same work
The federal government could require that employers negotiate with labour organizations on compensation before consulting any outside consultants.
Canada’s federal governments could work with provincial and district health care systems to ensure that health care across Canada respects rights to equality.
Nurses and other health care professionals have a right to wages that reflect their work and that match the demands of our patients.
And Medicare and social-care workers across Canada, including nurses, must be protected from wage discrimination.
Maria Farrell is General Secretary of Ontario Nurses Association (ONA). Diane Blais is President and CEO of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).