Show Us the Money: Equitable Compensation in the Ontario Nonprofit Sector
July 2022 / Toronto - We are halfway through the year and the discussion at every sector meeting eventually turns to the worsening human resources situation in the non-profit sector and particularly in the immigrant and refugee serving sector, including women’s services. Organizations- non-profit and/or charities are having a hell of a time recruiting and retaining qualified staff in all areas of our agencies from admin to program; tech to finance. And within HR itself.
Our subsector, like the general non-profit sector doing care work is dominated by women. And more than a hundred years since the establishment of the first settlement houses, we are still to shake off the official view of our subsector as volunteer, faith driven work being carried out in church basements by women with good hearts.
Let me correct this misconception. While many workers in our sector come to the work through a political commitment to ensure that newcomers to Canada are welcomed to a place of equity, antiracism and inclusion, they bring to the work skills, knowledge, lived experience and formal education that should and must be compensated well if we are to continue as a sector providing quality, impactful work.
The stories told at the various nonprofit tables are similar- multiple postings in various media and forums that yield very little qualified candidates. Shortlisted candidates cancelling interviews at the last minute or just not showing up. Offers being made to successful interview candidates, only to be told they’ve accepted another offer from a different organization. New staff starting and quitting within the first week or two, often to move to another position in government or public sector institutions or to the private sector. Both sectors compensate at much higher levels and often with some sort of pension included in the compensation package.
I’ve found myself telling this little anecdote lately. The Ontario Pay Equity Act was introduced in 1987. It was meant to recognize the importance of women’s work and to acknowledge the discrimination that many women faced by being paid less for equivalent work done by men.
By the early nineties, non-profit organizations, especially women services were busy setting up pay equity plans. Many of us used our municipalities as proxy organizations and based our compensation plans on their salary bands. At the time, I worked in leadership at Ontario’s first shelter for immigrant and refugee women fleeing intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence. The staff was all women, with the majority being racialized and immigrant.
We used the then Metro Toronto community services division (the current City of Toronto’s Social Development, Finance and Administration) as our proxy. Arriving at OCASI in the late nineties, I found out that they had used the same proxy for their pay equity plan. The City’s compensation was a bit higher (I don’t recall the exact numbers) but within reach as the proxy was accepted by the province.
Fast forward a couple of decades and now the starting salary for a comparable position with SDFA in the city (policy development officer) and a policy senior coordinator at OCASI has a more than $35K gap in compensation. And while OCASI offers an RRSP plan, the City offers a defined benefit pension. Similar comparisons can be made with other levels of government, school boards, hospitals, universities and colleges (the MUSH sector).
How can we begin to compete as nonprofits when funding levels remain low and inflexible; when our sector, despite our significant contributions to the social and economic wellbeing of our society, appears to be an afterthought, funded often at levels of pennies to the dollar of ministries and departments like health, education and most egregious, policing, in our national, provincial and municipal budgets?
Earlier this month, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) released its study titled Creating Wage Parity in Community Care. The study looked at compensation across the various subsectors in the non-profit world and found that “wage disparity between the community care jobs in nonprofits and those in the public and private sectors is driving the HR crisis.”
The Study offers eight recommendations, four for government and four for the nonprofit sector itself. Many resonate and will be supported by OCASI and its members.
The first recommendation aimed at government, speaks to a program to phase in wage parity over four years. The idea is that there will be annual instalments for similar groups of frontline workers across the MUSH and community sectors to achieve equal pay for work of equal value within four years. Excellent idea and was the original plan for pay equity in Ontario. However, the annual pay equity installment to organizations like OCASI has been the same for the past twenty plus years and certainly has not kept up with the compensation increases in the public sector as seen from my anecdote above- a $35K per year in salary difference.
There is some debate here as to whether women and others in the nonprofit sector can afford to wait so long for fair compensation, especially during this time of runaway inflation, rapidly increasing interest rates and governments who see the implementation and enforcement of price controls as political suicide. Goddess forbid that capitalists will have to live with a reduction in profits. Better to starve and make houseless the workers generating the profits (but I digress).
To add insult to injury, the provincial government’s Bill 124 - Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act has kept wage increases to one percent for the last couple of years, further impacting the wages of employees in the broader public sector including those working in the non-profit subsectors. For the Council, our employment and training agencies were most impacted by this law. We fully support the public sector unions’ legal challenge to this Act and call on Shango (Yoruba Deity) to ensure justice is served.
Other recommendations speak to revising funding agreements so that the principle of equal pay for equal work is embedded and reflected in funding levels and the call for a comprehensive labour force strategy for the nonprofit sector. This last idea, was one of the impetus behind the formation of the Nonprofit HR Sector Council of the early to mid-2000s, which was unceremoniously defunded and shelved by the federal government of Stephen Harper. I would argue, the dismantling of this ‘industry’ Council set us back a good decade in terms of standardization of work, compensation, etc, with the greatest impacts on racialized women workers.
The recommendations to the nonprofit sector itself are also timely and on point. They speak to the need for subsector collaboration, increased government relations (working with government on the labour force strategy for example), and mobilizing in communities with service users and others concerned about the state of community-based services. In short, the Study is a call to action for all nonprofit organizations wanting to create workplaces where the work is valued and well compensated. And to governments to acknowledge the important role that the nonprofit sectors play in building healthy communities and maintaining social cohesion.
As the provincial Council we are focused on providing opportunities for our members to lead in this fight for fair compensation. We are committed to upping our government relations game, to ensure that funding is not only adequate but that its flexible, its fair (who gets funded, how much, etc) and that it aims to reduce administrative burdens on agencies.
The ONN Study, complements the Study undertaken by the OCASI Women’s Caucus which highlights the inequities experienced by women mandated, women led and women serving organizations. Their budgets tend to be lower than other similar community-based organizations so having one formula for determining administrative fees for example, disadvantages these organizations who have similar administrative costs. Our recommendation here is that there must be flexibility from funders to allow smaller budget orgs to use more of the funding to cover administrative costs including admin and other managerial staff salaries.
This is a call to action. The Studies have been done, so we have the information to back up our claims. The time is now to reach across subsectors with shared goals and overlapping strategies. Let’s go make stuff happen!