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Equal Pay for Equal Work

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Reading: "Brilliant Western Woman Talks to Canadian Business Women's Club"

Reading: "Alberta Women and Alberta Laws"


Detail of statue of Louise McKinney by Barbara Paterson, on Parliament Hill in OttawaSince many women will either from choice or from force of circumstances continue to earn a living outside the home, are we not duty-bound to stand for the principle of equal pay for equal work?

                                              —Louise McKinney, 1919

Although women flooded into industry during the First World War, and industry made changes to accommodate this new workforce, during the 1920s, little improvement in female's hours and wages transpired.

As a result, women's groups pressured provincial governments to enact legislation to protect women from economic exploitation and to improve the lot of women who had to support themselves with their earnings. Organized labour groups also brought pressure to bear, since low wages for women undercut wages for all workers, and these groups wanted to limit female competition in the work force.

Women working at Clark's factory, Edmonton, Alberta, 1917Irene Parlby sponsored the Minimum Wage for Women Act, which was passed in 1925, making Alberta the first province to enact a minimum wage law for women. Although Nellie McClung was a proponent of equal wages for men and women (at the time, women earned only 1/3 of a man's wage), she objected to the UFA's Minimum Wage Act, because it did not provide for women to be on the administrative board.

The purpose of the minimum wage law was to ensure that female workers could earn a living wage—one sufficient to "preserve the health, morals and efficiency" of working women.

The dollar figure was established by estimating the basic weekly amount a single woman needed to keep herself in a "respectable, if somewhat impoverished state." Unfortunately, the assumption was made that the woman would work full-time and year-round. For most women, this was not the case. For many women, the minimum wage was really too low to fulfill its intended purpose. It did not provide vacation pay, benefits, or a future pension, so while their position may have improved slightly, women were still at a great economic disadvantage.

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