The COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on women in the workforce. They are more likely to work in sectors of the economy most impacted, they are more likely to have lost their employment, and they continue to face challenges returning to work. Yet, there has been no specialized response or strategy to ensure a just and fair economic recovery for women.
While I’m appreciative of government’s commitment to conduct regular gender and diversity analyses of its programs and policies, I’m worried about the serious absence of key women-focused actions to support their economic conditions. The absence of recommendations specific to women in the long-awaited report from the Premier’s council for recovery and growth, is stark.
Affordable and accessible child care is key to women’s labour force participation. In recent months there have been cursory references to increasing investment in early childhood education and child care, and we are cautiously hopeful for the new Federal-Provincial child care agreement.
But how can Islanders trust the Premier is sincere when he says child care is important? His cabinet is only weeks removed from campaigning for the federal party who pledged to tear up the $10/day childcare deal and replace it with a less favourable offering.
Government needs to express a firm commitment to improving Island working conditions. This means aggressive increases to the minimum wage, and not the paltry offering of $0.15 the King government recently put in place. That is the smallest increase of the 21st century that PEI has seen.
It means investigating incidents of harassment and discrimination in workplaces that are hurting women and forcing them out of their industries.
It means legislating paid sick days, especially when women are more likely than men to miss time from work due to illness, childcare, and eldercare.
It also means guaranteeing every Islander’s right to safe and affordable housing, especially when our housing crisis is pushing workers out of their communities.
Blaming Island workers for labour shortages or suggesting people simply need more ambition does nothing to address the ongoing issues many women continue to face.
The solution is also not advocating to strip back helpful government programs that have allowed Islanders to make ends meet like the Premier did when COVID first struck Islanders’ ability to earn a living.
Women represent half of our provincial population and continue to face unique challenges and disadvantages in the workforce. Ignoring women’s recovery is detrimental for women and families, and detrimental to our economy. It is also a missed opportunity to engage more workers in the labour market. Women should not be invisible members of society when it comes to our provincial economic recovery. When will the King government finally show us they care?