But will those gains be lost after the election, asks the AFL
EDMONTON – Women have made great strides in Alberta over the past four years – in both the workplace and in broader society – but that progress is at risk in the upcoming election, says the president of Alberta’s largest worker advocacy organization.
“Historically, Alberta has had the largest wage gap between women and men in the country and the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“Those gaps have been narrowing over the past few years, largely as a result of policy directions taken by the Notley government. But the election of a government committed to gutting or watering down those policies would throw everything into reverse.”
The policies that McGowan attributes to helping advance the interests of women in Alberta include the following:
The $15 minimum wage: Women made up 62 percent of the people working for less than $15 an hour before the Notley government introduced its minimum wage policy. So, the Notley government’s decision to transform the minimum wage into a living wage, as opposed to a poverty wage, was particularly important for women.
$25-a-day child care: The Notley government’s large and expanding child-care program has made it possible for more women to go back to work by bringing the cost of child care down by hundreds of dollars a month. This has dramatically improved the financial position of young families and single mothers.
Anti-austerity: The Notley government’s decision to respond to the deep recession of 2015-16 by maintaining levels of spending on public services (as opposed to slashing them as previous conservative governments had done during recessions) was important for women because the majority of people who work in health care, education and other public services are women.
Union Rights: The Notley government protected the constitutional right that all Canadians have, to join unions and bargain collectively. They also made it slightly easier for Albertans to exercise these rights. This is significant for women because union contracts are “gender blind” (they require people to be paid the same for the same work, regardless of gender) and because unions have been instrumental in driving the issue of pay equity onto the political and policy agenda.
In addition to economic and workplace policies, McGowan says that women have benefitted from social policies enacted by the Notley government – like their policies dealing with reproductive rights and their policies that allow parents to stay home with sick kids without having to worrying about losing their jobs.
In addition to higher wages and higher levels of workforce participation, McGowan says another measure of the success of the Notley government’s policies for women is the fact that they helped to cut child poverty rates in Alberta (already the lowest in the country) in half, even during a brutal recession.
“Some of the benefits that have accrued to women in Alberta over the past few years are very tangible, like wages, jobs and workplace rights,” says McGowan. “Other benefits are less tangible, but no less important: like the fact that young women have been able to see women like Premier Notley running a government competently through a very challenging period. From a societal point of view, this is transformative.”
McGowan concluded by saying that Albertans have a clear choice in the next election: “We can choose a leader who has gone out of her way to create conditions in which both women and men can thrive, both in the workplace and in the community; or we can chose a leader who thinks that some people deserve poverty wages because they don’t have sufficient levels of ‘human capital’ and who thinks women ‘don’t understand tactical politics’ as well as men.”
Alberta Federation of Labour