Big supermarkets, big pay equity gap

Female supermarket workers are still waiting for pay equity.

In fact, pay equity is still a big issue in many workplaces, despite advancements women have made in attaining higher wages, says York University social science Prof. Jan Kainer in her new book, Cashing in on Pay Equity? Supermarket Restructuring and Gender Equality (Sumach Press).

“Pay equity has been on the political agenda of the women’s movement in Canada for at least 25 years,” says Kainer. “In that time, political action by women and the labour movement has achieved pay equity laws in six of 10 Canadian provinces. However, a gender wage-gap, ranging between 15 and 30 per cent, continues to exist.

“As supermarket employees, women continue to face systemic wage discrimination, difficult working conditions and limited career advancement. In addition, their unions do not always stand behind pay equity initiatives.”

The culmination of more than 10 years of research on the Canadian food retail sector, one of the largest employers of women in the country, Kainer’s book traces the growth of supermarkets, the mergers and amalgamations that created supermarket giants, their growing domination of food distribution, and the employment of women in low-paid grocery clerk and cashier positions.

Using Ontario’s pay equity law as a case study, Kainer analyzed how this measure has been translated and implemented by supermarket chains. She cites restructuring of the workforce and growth of part-time jobs at the expense of full-time ones as examples of obstacles to improving work conditions and advancing pay equity.

Kainer is the coordinator of the Labour Studies Program in York’s Division of Social Science, Faculty of Arts.