Ontario midwives take gender-based pay gap complaint to tribunal

The Association of Ontario Midwives is arguing before the the Human Rights Tribunal that midwives experience gender-based discrimination in their pay, which is set by the government.

Midwifery has been a regulated health profession since 1994, and the government sets the pay

An expecting mother is examined by a midwife during a home visit in Free Union, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)

Ontario midwives took the province to the Human Rights Tribunal this week in a bid to boost pay in their profession after what they describe as two decades of gender-based discrimination.

Historically a profession exclusive to women, there is now one man among the 900 registered midwives in the province, said Ottawa midwife Liz Darling.

"Some of the work that we do as midwives is involved in caring and a lot of the caring professions, historically, have been paid much lower than other professions that might do work of similar value," she told Alan Neal on CBC Radio's All In A Day on Wednesday as the tribunal began.

Midwifery has been a regulated health profession since 1994, and the government sets the pay.

Midwives argue that professions dominated by men — including police, firefighters and paramedics — negotiate pay increases regularly while their profession continues to lag behind in compensation.

"I think that the negotiation process has been affected by the way the government sees and values the work of the profession," said Darling, who has been a midwife for 19 years. "I think that the way that the profession of midwifery has been treated by the government over the last 20 years reflects a devaluing of the work that midwives do."

Listen to the full interview here.

Midwives feel they're making much less than doctors, and they're saying it's gender inequality. As they faced off against the province at an Ontario Human Rights tribunal today, we'll hear their argument.

'Puzzling' gender inequality argument

The Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM) filed the complaint against the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care in November 2013. The association is calling for an increase from $100,000 annually for top earners to $148,000.

Then-minister Deborah Matthews said at the time that the "puzzling" gender inequality argument "doesn't ring true for me," especially since top earners make $100,000 annually.

"In the last 10 years, since (the Liberals) have been in office, midwives' compensation has gone up 33 per cent. It's true, doctors have gone up more but there are other health care workers that have gone up significantly less," she said at the time.

The annual salary of a family doctor at the time was $200,000.

Darling emphasized that midwives are on call to care for mothers for the duration of their pregnancies, including home visits, and continue to care for mothers and babies for six weeks after delivery.

"The work that midwives are doing is different. If you look at what a physician who is caring for a woman throughout pregnancy and labour does, those women are also being cared for by nurses during their time in hospital, and that's work that midwives are also doing that's included in the, sort of, basic package," she said.

More than 150,000 babies have been born under the care of a midwife since it became a regulated profession in 1994, including more than 35,000 births at home, according to the Association of Ontario Midwives.

The hearing is adjourned until the fall.

with files from All In A Day