Women & Work — read on!

the Halifax Examiner

Morning File, Wednesday, September 25, 2019


1. Women and the secondary labour market

Judy Haiven says when she sees cranes in developments around the city, she gets angry. Not only because those cranes are falling down a block from her home, but because of what they also mean for women and work in Nova Scotia.

The more cranes we see here or anywhere it means more jobs for the boys.

Construction work is overwhelming done by men, and while the jobs may be seasonal, they often pay men well, certainly above the living wage. But these jobs create the need for service jobs like those at restaurants, hotels, and cafes. Most of those jobs are done by women.

It continues that horrible, vicious cycle of men earning more and women earning less.

Haiven is a retired as a professor of management at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. She specialized in industrial relations, women and work, trade unions, and equity in the workplace. She’s also a writer and activist and is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Nova Scotia-based organization dedicated to fighting bullying and discrimination in the workplace. We met up a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been writing about living wages for Morning File and wanted to know more about how low wages in Nova Scotia affect women in particular. Over the past two years, as I collected job postings and heard from job hunters about their searches, most of the correspondence I’ve had has been from women. They tell me the trouble they have finding work, how they make less than their male colleagues, or about harassment in the workplace. I know women who’ve had to move out of province or go back to school to upgrade their skills so they could find work. That means paying more in tuition at an age when they want to be saving for retirement.

Here are some figures from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Women make less in every sector in Nova Scotia. 

The biggest gaps in wages between men and women are in management of companies and enterprises, mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction sectors, and the finance and insurance sectors. I looked at women working in various sectors back in the June 28 Morning File.

There is nothing wrong with working in the service sector. But these jobs are often low pay, seasonal, and don’t offer full-time hours. This is the secondary labour market and it’s dominated by women. Haiven says take a walk through any mall and look at who’s working in the shops. Women work many of the low-pay, part-time, seasonal jobs in the tourism sector in the province. It’s not that women in the service sector don’t have education; Haiven says many have a degree or two.

And this is for nothing because they are paid minimum wage and tips.  Tips are the most unfair way of paying anybody.

[I talked about this in a previous Morning File; bosses can keep your tips.]

What does working these service jobs mean long term for women? No pensions, fewer savings, they often can’t own a house, and there is less job security or none at all. If a woman is married and that marriage breaks down, she has even less financial security. Service jobs are physically demanding and have the women who work them on their feet for several hours each shift. Construction is hard physical work and dangerous for men, but there are protections like Workers’ Compensation and other benefits that women working service jobs don’t have. Women also age out of service jobs, Haiven says.

Because women are judged in terms of attractiveness, even if they can do the job after the age of 40 or 45, they’re no longer hired as cocktail waitresses, they’re no longer hired as front-of-hotel staff. This is the problem with women; they’re judged on the basis of their attractiveness.

When employers pay women well, what are the larger benefits? Well, their children are better off, the women have more savings for retirement, and they pay more taxes. Beyond that, encouraging women in their careers increases their self-esteem, giving them more mobility to move up career ladders in whatever sector they work.

Haiven says part of the problem is Atlantic Canada is one of the most conservative areas of the country. Certainly for my generation, our mothers stayed home to raise children and take care of the home. Men work in low-paying jobs here too, but still do better than women.

Women feel just to get a job or to get a foot in the door they have to accept whatever is going. Because of the historical norms around here in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, 15 years ago calls centres were all the rage and most of the people working there were women. Now, it’s about 50-50 because employment is spiraling downward, so men take the low-paying jobs. But men, if they stick around, will get promoted and get slightly better jobs over the years.

Even when women get educated, they start at entry-level jobs that don’t pay well.

At Saint Mary’s, 60 to 70 per cent of business students are women. What kind of job will they get? Bank tellers don’t pay a living wage. What we see is women start out earning so much less than men, it’s harder to catch up. Of course, getting an education is a good idea, but it’s no guarantee you can maintain your family or a reasonable standard of living.

There’s the motherhood penalty. Women fall behind in their careers because they take off time to have children. Their employer only has to hold their job for a year. Transportation is an issue, particularly for women in rural areas. If a woman has more than one child, the costs of daycare are often prohibitive. Of course, women who work in childcare are low-paid workers themselves, even though many are educated with degrees in early childhood education.

Haiven says the work world is better for women in many places in Ontario and even in the Prairie provinces.

There’s the ability there for women to have jobs that pay decently. They can afford to send their children to daycares. Quite a few of the daycares are nonprofit and enhanced and underwritten by government money.

Unions can help women get head. Still, women are often the last to get hired and the first to get fired. That means women are constantly looking for work and the union movement hasn’t really addressed this. Haiven suggests having two seniority lists could help keep more women in unionized workplaces.

But Haiven suggests we look to countries like Denmark, Finland, and Sweden instead of looking south of the border for ways to improve women’s situations in the workforce.

We can see people paying their fair share of taxes, and corporations having to pay taxes, and having a highly tax society actually pays off.  There are more social services, more ability to send your children to early childhood education, there are places to go if you have disabilities.

There is also huge turnover in the secondary labour market. If employers pay low wages, people don’t stay in those jobs. If they have any options at all, they move on to jobs elsewhere in the city or to Ontario and western Canada.

[Employers] want to find people who will work for a song or less, and won’t cause trouble, and will work around the clock, and come in even on bad weather days.

Haiven says to see women get paid more and move up the ladders, the change has to come from the top.

The way change happens is that governments have to start leading and they certainly won’t lead here. We have to start leading. They have to start putting women, people of colour, immigrants, and new Canadians near the top of organization. They have to start talking about these things.  They have to start talking about equity issues and actually start doing something and stop the trap.

Oh, but we have to hire the best candidates, regardless of gender, you say?

Well, we also talked about merit, too, and who gets what jobs and why. Think of any time we talk about women or people of colour being considered for a job. The question of merit always comes into play: We must hire the best person for the job! But that question is never asked if all the candidates for a job are men, particularly white men. That’s because we think those men are automatically qualified for any job.

Haiven says she thinks there should be merit retroactively.

All the men who are hired in chief positions at banks, companies, enterprises, grocery chains, hotels, all the men who were on high levels, what kind of merit do they have? I doubt many of them had a degree. I doubt many of them had a background. Some of them might have worked their way up, but there’s nothing wrong with women working their way up, but they seldom get the opportunity.

Now that I’m all fired up, I have to head to work.

What to Read; What to Watch

A great novel is Canadian Mona Awad’s latest, Bunny.  This is a shocking and still humorous take on the scholars and scholarship of  women in  Master’s program in creative writing at a nearly ivy-league university.bunny

Samantha, from the “other side of the tracks”, joins four young privileged white women in a seminar course. They call each other “Bunny” – in tones of endearment which gets subverted to control.  What happens veers from sorority pranks, to a cult-like friendship, to something that ultimately crosses “the line”.

Samantha’s only friend, Ava, is a woman who is university drop out—who urges her to do the same.

The cast of characters includes the oh so serious professors, including a man called the Lion, and a woman who just wants everyone to hold hands and get along.

13Awad’s earlier novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, was angrier and more defiant than this one. It is excellent too.  But Awad’s writing, and plot really carries Bunny, to its rather unsettling ending.   Both books are in Halifax library.

Just watched Unbelievable on Netflix.  Unlike most policiers, this one is well written and surprising.  The script is strong and written by my favourite novelist couples, Michael Chabon chabonand Ayelet Waldman waldman.   At first this series seems like a straightforward tale of Marie, a 15 year old girl is raped, and  police pressure her to say it never happened.  Then you see more great acting, including the put downs of the cops, and two “good” police women who decide to pursue a rapist they can’t even name.    The story about Marie weaves in and out of the series, in a believable and volatile way.  You won’t stop watching till the end.unbelievable

Without  sentimentalizing or infantilizing the victims, and without painting the cops as saviours – this series is unique. Highly recommend it.

What to Watch; What to Read…

And Breathe Normally, is breath-taking.  This Icelandic film  features a near-destitute single mother Lara, who is trying to raise her 7 year old son. When she can’t afford the rent, she and her son leave their apartment to go on what Lara calls a “big adventure” — meaning driving, sleeping and eating in her car.   As luck would have it, she lands a job as an Icelandic border service agent at the airport.  But somehow she needs to get to work, washed, and in uniform after dropping her son at school– all without letting on she’s homeless.  Her first or second day at work, she helps to “bust” an African woman, Adja,  who uses a  false passport in a bid to take a connecting flight to Toronto where she wants to seek asylum.  We see that the protocols for Adja’s gaining refugee status on landing in Iceland are  not much different — nor more humane — than those in Canada.  Somehow Lara and Adja’s lives connect then intertwine on a very deep level.  This is an outstanding film.  Watch it on Netflix.  Here’s the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47WvcQ6Mb1U

Walmart: Diary of an Associate is the first book about being a salesclerk or “an associate” at a Canadian Walmart store.  Written by veteran La Presse journalist Hugo Meunier, he does what too few journalists get to do — he goes underground and works as an associate for 3 months at the St Leonard store, just outside of Montreal.  This book is first in other ways.  He describes the day to day grind, the incredible poverty of his co-workers, the drive by management for the store to haul in at least $200,000 a day in sales (especially in the run-up to Christmas), walmartand what a Christmas party for Walmart “family” (staff) is like.  We experience a lot through his eyes, and through his ironic and excellent writing.  The first thing is because he is fit, able and well-organized, he  is all but promoted to “lead hand” status — which of course for the purpose of the experiment he does not want.  He hauls hundreds of pounds of frozen food, inside the store and into the freezers; he fields crazy and nasty questions and rebukes from the shoppers, and his work days drag by.  He earns minimum wage of $10.08 per hour (minimum wage in Quebec at the time) plus an extra $1.00 for his experience working in a supermarket when he was in high school.  This brings his wage to $11.08 an hour, or about $18,000 a year! The work and the conditions exhaust him. He needs to park in the outer edge of the carpark, otherwise the other staff will see he drives a late model and decent car — which none of them could afford on their wages.  Most associates take two or more buses merely to get to work  — the long hours means many associates (even those who are single parents with small kids) have to start their shift as early as 4 or 5 in the morning.  This necessitates taking a taxi — which costs them  three to four to  hours’ wages– every day.  Diary of an Associate is an excellent book — a must for students of labour relations, sociology, anthropology and even history!   I bought the book for $21, it’s a Fernwood book, translated from French.

I also read a thriller-mystery and legal drama, Dark Lady,  by the veteran novelist James Patterson North. dark-ladyUnlike some of his other books — none of this takes place in a  court room. But it is an excellent read for all of us in Halifax who are fighting against a stadium built with public funds.  In fact the situation in the imaginary city of Steelton (much like Buffalo, NY, or Cleveland) seems very similar to our situation here.  First with the debacle of the commercial Wanderers soccer team using public space on the Commons for a pittance, and then the big push for a stadium.  The book centres on a female district attorney, who is a bit hidebound and very career driven, her former lover — a clever lawyer who plays fast and loose, and dazzling levels of corruption in senior police and city government.  When her ex-boyfriend is found dead, Stella starts to investigate.  But she does not have the social capital needed to actually find out what happened.  As a formerly sheltered Catholic school girl from a poor Polish family, she cannot read the rich and the powerful.  Nor can she match them at their games.  The help she enlists puts her in more danger.  The book also looks at the all too visible “colour bar” in Steelton, and the huge disparity between blacks and whites there.  The book is clever and  veers into deeply troubling and deeply realistic issues in our very own city. I got the book as an e-book from the Halifax library.

Hurricane Fallout: School Closures & Comfort Centres

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – There are more questions than answers about what took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

See also: Judy Haiven: Hurricane hardship in the workplace

First let’s tackle the business about school closures, and then we’ll look at who supports “comfort centres” for Nova Scotians without power.

On Monday, there was no school throughout the province – no elementary, no secondary, no post-secondary.  Nova Scotia was trying to catch its breath.

On Tuesday, there was no school for elementary students anywhere in NS. Of course in some communities it was a matter of safety.  Downed electrical wires, broken and leaning trees, flooding and no electricity – that meant no schools should have been open in those areas.

However why wasn’t school open in relatively safe Halifax for example?  Or in Lunenburg? One possible reason is this: 21 months ago, with a stroke of a pen, Premier Stephen McNeil  decided to abolish the province’s seven school boards. He replaced them with an “advisory council” composed of members handpicked by Zach Churchill, the Minister of Education, who are more or less guaranteed not to cause any grief.

The Nova Scotia Liberals now control all schools directly –it’s just easier to do the one size fits all:  decree that all the schools are closed, no matter the local conditions.

As Hank Middleton the former president of the NS School Boards Association (now defunct) said about McNeil’s decision:  “We’ve gone from educational democracy to educational bureaucracy. It drives me crazy that [in] the province of Joseph Howe and responsible government we’re eliminating elected school boards.”

Comfort Centres

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, there were more than 50 “comfort centres” set up around the province.  Open for varying but limited hours in community fire stations, town halls and empty storefronts, comfort centres allowed residents without power to charge their phones, get a hot drink and amuse their kids with TV for a while.  But who exactly pays for these comfort centres – certainly not NS Power! In fact the centres are kept open by volunteers who staff them, and supply coffee, snacks and water. Can anyone explain why NS Power – a huge for-profit power monopoly in NS which declared $3 billion dollars in profits over the last 25 years  – does not at the least pick up the pay for comfort centres?

Thanks to NS Advocate for publishing my two stories on  Hurricane Dorian.


Hurricane Dorian — Hardship in the Workplace

Because of Hurricane Dorian most shops, bars and stores were closed from at least last Saturday at noon until the following Tuesday. Depending on whether or not there was electricity or damage, many shops and services did not re-open till later Tuesday or even Wednesday.

Does anyone pay workers when they can’t work due to “weather”? Hourly paid workers – such as bar, restaurant, and coffee shop employees simply do not get paid. This week, they could lose nearly half their week’s pay (and tips), due to the closures. Some more conscientious employers do try to compensate their employees, but those employers are few and far between.

Just as the public got stuck with having to throw away often hundreds of dollars worth of milk, vegetables, eggs and frozen food in their own fridges and freezers which went bad or thawed because of a lack of electricity, so too did restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores. No doubt employers or owners who grouse about their business food losses are not thinking much about their employees who are now going without pay.

About 73% of workers in Nova Scotia are covered by the meager protections and benefits set set out in Nova Scotia Labour Standards. I scoured the Labour Standards Code only to confirm that employers have no obligation to pay their staff – when the premises are closed due to “weather”, lack of power, or flooding. Essentially, if workers don’t work, they do not get paid.


The other 27% of NS workers are union members, so they benefit from better working conditions and wages which are negotiated by their unions. Some, especially those on salary, they will get paid, even when weather made it impossible to go to work.

Statistics Canada reveals that across Canada and in Nova Scotia the most common occupation for women is retail salesperson. But most of them work part time, don’t earn as much or get promoted as often as men who work in retail. With the malls and shops closed in the wake of the hurricane, women especially lost hours and income. The most common job for men is truck driving. While drivers lost routes and days because of the storm, overall men are paid more, and typically rely on full time jobs.

The clean-up of Hurricane Dorian adds to GDP (Gross Domestic Product). As long as money is spent fixing shingles, drying basements, chopping up downed trees and taking down a construction crane – it adds to the economy. However for all those retail workers, cashiers, servers and bartenders – Hurricane Dorian proved to be a financial disaster.Hur

Hong Kong vs Gaza– Don’t touch the ‘3rd rail’


This is the 13thweek that protests are taking place in Hong Kong. Since the CBC has one reporter in Beijing and one in Hong Kong, they report on the protests every night – live on our TV news.hong-kong1

What started out as a single demand to kill a bill that would allow extradition of miscreants to Beijing, it has now morphed into other demands including one for “fully democratic elections” for the one-time British colony.  Though Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has now rescinded the extradition bill, she insists she will go no further in political reforms.

Every night what Lam calls “radical protesters”  throw Molotov Cocktails,  corrosive liquids and bricks at the police.  The protestors set fire to institutions, mob the subways and airport, and set barricades on fire. hong-kong3

In the last two weeks, Hong Kong police have fired more than 1800 rounds of tear gas.  Police shoot water cannons filled with blue-dyed water to stain demonstrators in order to make them more visible to authorities.

Internet sources claim eleven have died as a result of the protests, with four of them taking their own lives for reasons that are unclear.  Virtually no one has been seriously injured.HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-CRIME

Compare the Hong Kong situation to Gaza where there have been thousands who have protested every Friday for the last 74 weeks. Do Canadians know? Has there been weekly coverage on the CBC or on any media outlet?  Far from it.

However, 17 months ago, on 31 March, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great March of Return.  The people of Gaza – who live in what Noam Chomsky and others call the largest open-air prison in the world– decided to peacefully march to the border fence with Israel. Their demands are an end to the 12 years’ siege of Gaza, and the right for refugees to be allowed to return to their homes.  Every Friday for 74 weeks, tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians march to the border with Israel to stand there. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) have shot, killed and maimed thousands of these civilians. More than a dozen medics,  including Dr Tarek Loubani, a Canadian doctor from London, Ont., have been injured.    Gaza13

(above) Ibraheem Abu Thuraya: an Israeli airstrike took his legs in 2008, and took his life in 2017.

To date, Israeli snipers have killed more than 220 Palestinians, 43 of whom were children.  With live ammunition, the IDF shot and injured 6300 Palestinians; more than 120 of whom had have had limbs amputated as a result.  Subscribing to an “open-fire policy”, Israeli-fired tear gas canisters have smashed at least than 1600 people in the head – killing dozens.  In the last year, Israeli airstrikes have destroyed 30 Palestinian homes and damaged more than 500.

The CBC and other mainstream media has got behind the “little guy” in the David and Goliath story of Hong Kong vs mainland China.  Especially in the first weeks, the media was rooting for the students and families who wanted “democracy” for Hong Kong – meaning resistance to Chinese “Communist” authorities. gaza11

But what of Gaza?  There was not one instance in which the Canadian media empathized with the hundreds of thousands there who demonstrated peacefully for their rights.  The destruction of Gaza and its population was dropped from the news because our media’s pro-Israel bias is so ingrained that they do not need to be told what not to cover.

Recently the media has covered rather harmless clashes between Chinese Canadians who favour the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong and the Chinese Canadians who support the government in Beijing.   But that same media has consistently refused to cover the scores of demonstrations across Canada in support of Palestinians’ rights in the Occupied Territories and Gaza.

Why is that?  How, in all conscience, can the Canadian media stir the sympathy pot for Hong Kong and totally ignore the genocide going on in Gaza?


One clue is the backlash of the pro-Israel lobby in Canada and the US.  More than one  producer at the CBC  has said that every time they run a story on Gaza, the backlash from Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), “Honest Reporting” and various other right-wing media is so intense,  it is “not worth it.”

Also there may be the little issue of race: like many people in Canada, I grew up with the media’s portrayal of Arabs (read Palestinians) as violent, knife-wielding and backward. On the other hand, Israelis were portrayed as cultured, western and exemplified by Paul Newman in the film Exodus.  For decades Palestinians and all Arabs have been labeled terrorists – you just need to look at the false arrests, and the incarceration of many Arab-Canadians (and many more Arab-Americans) in the wake of 9-11.  Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization, but it’s been the elected government of Gaza since 2006.

What we have is an abject failure by the media and frankly Canada to grapple with the contradiction in front of us right now.  The continued coverage –cheered on by the media — about Hong Kong’s rebellion against mainland China, versus the near absolute media silence about the tens of thousands who continue to stand up to what the UN has called an illegal and brutal occupation of Gaza—now in its 75thweek.

The Israel and Palestine issue is the “third rail” of Canadian politics. Touch it and you will be electrocuted.  Better, then– as far as the media is concerned —  to give it a wide berth.

What to Watch, What to Read

It’s well worth watching I am not an Easy Man on Netflix.  This French film turns the tables on the typical French “love affair” based film.  Instead it shows what happens when women run the companies, run the bedrooms, and run everyday French life.  And when men are forced to be subservient, cute, caregivers.  The acting’s great, and it’s a lot of fun.

It reminds me of another great “reversal” themed film White Man’s Burden featuring Harry Belafonte.  In this alternate universe of the US, black people run the country and whites live in fear of attack, police brutality, and worse.  It’s scary and very clever. Buy it second hand on Amazon.ca White_Mans_Burden

On my trip to Cape Breton, on Netflix I watched Tim Robinson’s very funny skits on a delightful series called  I think you should leave — here’s the 3 min. trailer.   https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-Lkry-SF01&hsimp=yhs-SF01&hspart=Lkry&p=i+think+you+should+leave#id=4&vid=5ea97aa95de65d4bb139594c37475a98&action=click

As for reading, I recommend the door-stopper sized book, Guantanamo Diary.  Its author Mohamedou Ould Slahi is from Mauritania and suffered through more than 15 years of American torture and imprisonment in Guantanamo.  Half the book is redacted, as he wrote it while in “custody” and it had to be “passed” by US censors.  That in itself is amazing.  To see the black marker lines through page after page is disturbing.  Slahi’s English is brilliant and his sense of humour is great — the former was mostly learned in Gitmo.  And the feat of remembering, his talks and his guantinteractions with guards, lawyers, and torturers is remarkable.  I first found out about Slahi because of an excellent article in the New Yorker, a taste of what this man, a graduate engineer trained in Germany, and one time Montreal resident, went through.  And a very good  review of his book is  here.