Cashing in on Pay Equity: Supermarket Restructuring and Gender Equality

Article excerpt

by Jan Kainer


Review by Wendy Robbins

Warning: Jan Kainer's so-little-success story about the implementation of Ontario's Pay Equity Act in supermarkets is a little hard to stomach.

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The pay equity process is shaped not only by the law and the economy, but also by the people responsible for implementing it. According to Kainer, the 1988 Ontario law was weakened by political compromise. The economy was undergoing major restructuring, and the patriarchs (labour leaders and corporate managers) responsible for implementation either didn't get it or just weren't buying. As a result, gender-based wage inequities remained after the pay equity exercise in supermarket chains that included Sobey's, A&P, Safeway, Miracle Food Mart, Loblaw's (one of the largest private-sector employers in Canada) and Wal-Mart (the largest retailer in the world).

Going beyond the notion of equal pay for the same or substantially similar work, pay equity requires women to be paid at the same rate as men for performing equivalent work. To read Kainer is to appreciate the extent to which equivalent work, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Kainer faults pay equity evaluation committees for not challenging common cultural meanings of women's work and for such gross errors as excluding part-time workers. In Ontario, 37 percent of retail employees work part-time; 66 percent of these are women. …