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Midwives call on Ontario to close gender pay gap after human rights tribunal ruling

The province's 963 registered midwives are calling on the Ford government to increase their wages after the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that they have been subject to gender discrimination.

AOM filed complaint in 2013 alleging government discriminated against midwives on the basis of gender

The Association of Ontario Midwives filed a complaint with Ontario's human rights tribunal in 2013, alleging the province discriminates against midwives on the basis of gender. (Sudbury Community Midwives)

The province's 963 registered midwives are calling on the Ford government to increase their wages after the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that they have been subject to gender discrimination.

"Closing the gender pay gap for midwives is a better option compared to spending tax dollars and resources continuing to battle midwives in court," Elizabeth Brandeis, president of the Association of Ontario Midwives, said at a new conference on Monday.

"Government has already fought midwives for seven years in the court system. Midwives have already been subjected to this gender pay gap for 10 years. That can all end now."

The organization filed a complaint with the tribunal in 2013, alleging the provincial government has discriminated against midwives on the basis of gender by undervaluing their work.

From left to right: Liz Fraser, an Ottawa-based midwife and AOM board member; AOM president Elizabeth Brandeis and human rights lawyer Mary Cornish at Monday's news conference. (CBC)

In handing down its decision, the tribunal detailed how current compensation for midwives is impacted by stereotypes and misconceptions about their work.

"The pay gap is a reflection of the undervaluing of women's work compared to men in the same or comparable sectors," Brandeis said.

"As our funder, the government is responsible for ensuring midwifery compensation is compliant with the human rights code. In other words, it's not legal to discount the work of midwives because of stereotypes associated with the work that we do," Brandeis added.

Midwifery a sex-segregated profession, AOM says

The AOM president said midwifery is a sex-segregated profession, made up almost entirely of women, transgender and non-binary people.

Liz Fraser, an Ottawa-based midwife and AOM board member, said midwives provided care to more than 25,000 people last year.

"We have often heard from government about how much they appreciate the services that midwives provide to Ontarians," Fraser said Monday.

"I'm here today to tell government that you can't value the services midwives provide without fairly valuing the midwives who provide care," Fraser said.

AOM says midwives provided care to more than 25,000 people, their newborns and their families last year. (Shutterstock / NadyaEugene)

Human rights lawyer Mary Cornish said that based on the tribunal's ruling, the Ministry of Health is now required to implement the findings of a joint 2010 study called the Courtyard report, which recommended a 20 per cent adjustment in compensation for midwives, retroactive to April 1, 2011.

Cornish said the tribunal's decision sets out "some powerful obligations" on the part of the Ministry of Health to ensure that it take gender into account when setting compensation for midwives, but also paying the compensation of sex -segregated workers.

"Given that a great deal of the public sector's health work is done by women in Ontario, this is a very important and influential ruling," she said.

The province has also been ordered to implement a gender-based analysis, looking at its compensation-setting practices and policies in order to determine where they have had an adverse impact.

Government reviewing decision

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General said the government is reviewing the decision.

"Ontario has applied for judicial review of the Tribunal's decision on liability and will be applying for judicial review of the Tribunal's decision on remedy," Brian Gray wrote in an email to CBC News.

"As the matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further."

Responding to the tribunal's ruling, NDP health-care critic France Gélinas and Peggy Sattler, the party's critic for pay equity, issued a joint statement calling for the Ford government to comply immediately.

The NDP said while the former Liberal government created the discriminatory compensation practices Ontario midwives have long experienced, the Ford Conservatives have done nothing to end it, and they "must take concrete action now to implement the tribunal's orders."

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