The Richmond Review, Wednesday, May 20, 1981

by Graeme Elliott

I was brought up to believe all I had to do was bring home the bacon and we would be able to live high on the hog.
It isn't so.
In these days of record-breakmg interest and inflation rates and expensive tobacco, it turns out I have to rely on my Dear Lady to bring home the rest of the pig.
The same applies in many households, as is evident from the increasing number of women entering the work force. People go to work for a lot of reasons and one of the main reasons is because two paycheques are better than one.
Or so it seems, until the first payday. Then one begins to wonder why one paycheque is better than the other. Why does the average man earn 60% more than the average woman?
In 1978, the average annual salary for a woman was $9,874. Her male counterpart averaged $17,038.
Why the stunning gap?
When the call for "Equality," is lip-serviced far and wide, why are men more average than women?
Employers throw up various excuses for maintaining this status inequity. They say working conditions for traditionally male-filled jobs are tougher, the physical demands harder, the responsibilities and decision more difficult.
"Besides, they can always do a mans' job, if they want a mans' pay." Right. So much for those arguments.
"Besides, they get pregnant and leave the job, and never return the investment made to train them." So? When they re-enter the work force, why are they still lagging behind their sons who are just starting?
The reason for women not being paid equally is that all employers like to have a pool of cheap labour handy. Over the years, employers have banded together to form employers' councils, for lack of a better name, and set about to artificially depress the true labour market value of women to maintain that pool.
Employers Council of B.C president Bill Hamilton recently illustrated this collusion by his intervention into the negotiations between the striking Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Burnaby School Board. Hamilton sent a letter to the school board, advising it not to concede to the unions' key demand, equalization of base pay rates, noting that to do so "would impact on both the public and private sectors."
Impact? Yes, it would have an impact. It would eliminate an unfair practice, put more taxpaying and spending power into the hands of the women affected, thereby pumping more money through the marketplace and the pool of cheapened labour would start to dry up, as employers would have to start matching or bettering pay rates to attract the best workers. Just like they do for the male-dominated job categories.
By artificially depressing wages, employers have treated all women equally unfairly and created a situation where wages can be less than welfare payments to a single women with two children.
The captains of free enterprise sings paeans to the holding of a job as being the first step to success, and then create a situation where not
having a job is more attractive.
There are legitimate reasons for receiving welfare. One of those is the lack of economic incentive to get off welfare.
In a society where a stigma is attached to being on welfare and a general resentment to the tax burden, some of which is incurred by those welfare costs, increasing pressure must be put on employers to provide the incentive (higher wages) to attract some of those welfare recipients into the work force and turn them into taxpayers, so they can share the load.
Pressure to pay women fairly will come from another powerful group, the two-paycheque households.
It will come from women abandoning their typewriters, switchboards, keypunches and teller cages to take up truck-driving and running lathes and other traditionally male-dominated jobs, for the wages men receive.
As the cheapened labour pool dries up, the abilities to take short-hand and to type will be recognized as true job skills and will command the premiums awarded to other skills in most wage settlement schemes.
The pressure will come from men feeling the competition for their jobs and facing the dreary fact of the household economics which demand that the butterwinners have those jobs. It will come from the realization that as men seek higher and higher raises, they move into higher tax brackets, whereas the same raises paid to the
butterwinners will move them into tax brackets long ago vacated by men. A raise paid to a lower-paid woman yields more net-income for the household than the same raise paid to a more heavily-taxed man.
On an economy-wide basis, employers may use the same reasoning. They have to deduct and remit income taxes and they may someday see the trend to two-income households and that they can play upon this trend.
By paying women more, they can brighten the household economic picture, relieving the pressure from men for ever-greater raises and thereby reducing the increase in the remittance to the taxman.
Of course, that scenario pre-supposes that employers are in collusion in their drive for profits, so that adoption of this tactic can happen on a wide scale to bring relief to the beleagured household economy.
Mr. Hamilton has demonstrated this collusion exists and that it now impacts unfairly on the household sector.
Having said all that, the other reason that womens' wages are lower than mens' wages is because men have discriminated against women. Manly egos demand that us otherwise inoffensive creatures be superior in some ways and bringing home a larger slice of bacon has been one manifestation of that superiority.
For my part, I find it crass that my superiority should be measured in dollars and cents. I would be quite content to relax in the suety of that quality and let my bear Lady bring home the whole pig. And cook it too.
She is a better cook than I.

Scanned from original newsprint or photocopies using OCR, Epson Perfection 2450 Photo scanner. © GE

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