Women Deserve Better from Ontario
Oral presentation to the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs about Budget 2022
January 19, 2022
Good morning, Mr. Chair, Speaker and honourable members of the committee. My name is Jasmine Ramze Rezaee. I am the Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today.
YWCA Toronto is a multi-service non-profit located in the City of Toronto. Each year we serve approximately 13,000 people, primarily women (but also gender diverse community members, youth and girls), through a variety of programs and services. We are one of the leading housing providers for women in the country; we specialize in affordable and supportive housing.
We also offer more than 30 programs across 11 locations from an early learning centre, to settlement services, to employment and skills training programs, to girls’ programs. We are connected to a provincial YWCA Ontario movement – there are in total 11 Member Associations across the province from Sudbury to Hamilton. Together we serve over 50,000 individuals. We engage in systemic advocacy to address gender and racial inequities.
YWCA Toronto has a long and proud history of partnership with the Province of Ontario in working towards full equality for women and girls. Many of our programs, like our Violence Against Women shelters and our employment programs for newcomers, are either partially or fully funded by the province. Some of our programs, like our Girls’ Centre (one of only a few in Canada) should be, but are not, funded by any level of government.
We can say with absolute certainty that every social, political and economic issue in our province is a woman’s issue. Women are impacted by the labour market, the housing market, the rising cost of living, by the rise of working poverty and precarious employment, and by deeply inadequate social assistance rates – and they are experiencing these challenges in distinct and nuanced ways.
Women have been on the frontlines of this pandemic: In essential services, ensuring our shelters and supportive housing programs remain open; in our child care and healthcare systems, in the non-profit sector, which is a woman-majority sector; at home, caring for children and the elderly.
And what we have repeatedly observed is women on the frontlines, assuming a great level of risk, performing a critical role in our labour market and at home – with few protections and little support.
I spoke to this committee in January of 2020, that was before COVID was declared a global pandemic. The concern I raised at that time was about rising poverty and inequality in our province along gender and racial lines, and the lack of awareness about the gendered impacts of such inequities. Fast forward two years later, and we are grappling with an ongoing pandemic, which is threatening to deepen poverty and inequality.
Poverty is a women’s issue – 73% of minimum wage workers in Ontario are women. Women are over-represented in single-parent families and in precarious employment. It is the poverty of women that is behind the poverty of so many children in our province. Poverty is also heightened for Indigenous, racialized and Black women given the intersections of sexism, racism and classism, and for people living with disabilities.
One of the concerns we have – and last year I met with multiple provincial government committees and advisory bodies about this – is around decent work for women. Work can offer a powerful path out of poverty. But many women are trapped in industries with low wages and few job protections. For example, child care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, often earn very low wages. The pandemic has exposed that our essential workers provide a critical role in keeping our economy open but that we don’t adequate compensate their labour or protect them from harm.
Ontario is the only province yet to sign the federal child care agreement. Signing this agreement will result in significant wage increases for workers, operating dollars for child care providers, while lowering expenses for parents which will really allow women to participate in the labour market on a more equal footing. We hope the 2022 Budget reflects new child care investments.
But decent works requires more than better wages – it requires access to sick days and job security and flexibility from employers. It requires the recognition and understanding that workers have caregiving responsibilities – and that women should not lose out financially for having children.
We are echoing the calls by our partners for legislated paid sick days and multi-year funding for women-led employment and training programs to help women enter the skilled trades and other better paid industries – while calling for stronger employment standards across the board.
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has recently made a great deal of new funding available for skilled trades development but none of it has flown to women’s organizations. Several YWCAs applied for the funding but were not successful. It is super important that government investments have clear gender targets – applying an intersectional gender lens to budget allocations and funding considerations will help address gender and racial disparities.
As an employer and service provider, the safety and well-being of our staff and program participants are our top priorities. But, it has not been easy. The recent COVID variant has greatly impacted our shelter, housing and child care programs. Our last bill for N95 masks was over $16,000. Last year, on top of our 18 paid sick days, we offered 20 pandemic sick days to our employees to ensure that our staff is protected. We have also provided a 10% wage top up to our frontline workers but now that Bill 124 has come into effect, it is likely that we can no longer do so without contravening legislation. While the provincial government did provide wage top-ups to VAW shelters, they sunset only after a few months and were never re-introduced. They were also never expanded to include child care workers. We are hoping for a different outcome in the 2022 Budget.
As an organization, we are facing an enormous deficit because the wellbeing of our staff is so important to us. But it shouldn’t be this way – we shouldn’t have to continuously fundraise to provide essential programs. We need the government now to show up for our sector, both the women we employ and the women we serve. The labour of women in our society must be fairly compensated and respected.
We hope that that the 2022 Budget reflects deeper investments for the non-profit sector, as well as clear gender targets and investments in child care, housing, shelter, and employment and training. We also hope that social assistance rates can be raised so that women accessing OW or ODSP, and their children, can live in dignity.
Thank you for your time. You can expect a comprehensive pre-budget submission from the YWCA Ontario Coalition. It would be my pleasure to answer any questions you may have.
Jasmine Ramze Rezaee is the Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto.