Honour human rights tribunal decision: midwives

CENTRE WELLINGTON – A group of local midwives is lobbying MPPs to urge the Ford government to honour a Human Rights Tribunal decision and end a gender pay gap for midwives.

They presented a letter to Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott on Feb. 28 and plan on visiting Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner’s office in the coming weeks.

“Like many women workers, there is a pay equity gap,” Rebecca Carson said in an interview.

She is a midwife and partner in Family Midwifery Care, which operates from Guelph but has clients in Fergus, Puslinch and Arkell.

“Midwives experience discrimination, and that’s why we filed a Human Rights complaint.”

That complaint was filed in 2013 and it has been a lengthy process, with 51 hearing dates and many witnesses, Carson said.

In September 2018 the tribunal issued an interim decision that found the Ministry of Health – the sole funder of midwives in Ontario – “had lost touch with the benchmarks” that had previously guided compensation for midwives, and doing so was discriminatory.

On Feb. 19 of this year the tribunal issued its remedy solution: to bump midwives’ pay by 20 per cent.

The Ministry of Health has applied for a judicial review of the decision.

Prior to 2005, the Ministry of Health and the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM) reached a compensation agreement that placed midwife salaries somewhere between salaries earned by physicians and nurse practitioners at Community Health Centres. This benchmark was based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions in low-risk maternity and newborn care.

Since then, salaries for physicians at Community Health Centres have increased while those for midwives have not kept pace.

Because midwifery is a female-dominated profession that exclusively focuses on women’s reproductive health, the tribunal ruled that gender discrimination is at play in determining their salaries.

“What distinguishes the AOM’s allegations from general allegations of unfairness is that midwives are sex-segregated workers, and as a result, they are vulnerable to the forces of gender discrimination on their compensation… ” the decision states.

“The maintenance of a physician comparator makes visible the overlapping scope of practice that midwives share with a historically male profession.”

The ruling also allows for $7,500 in compensation to midwives for “injury to dignity.”

Carson said midwifery “is not a job, it’s a calling. We would never compromise our patients and that makes it easier to discriminate against us.”

Midwives must complete a four-year bachelor of health sciences degree with a specialty in midwifery as well as clinical training before they can practice. They assess patients, order ultra-sounds, are on-call 24/7, manage complications, and can deliver babies in private homes or hospitals. Ongoing learning is also required to keep up to date, Carson said.

“You really have a big impact on families as a whole,” she said. “That’s part of the joy of the job. And we’ve seen lots of support on this issue. We hope the government will hear that and cancel their appeal.

“The struggle for justice can take a long time.”