Brock University researcher launches online survey of Ontario retail workers

A Brock University labour expert has launched an online survey to collect data about retail workers’ working conditions.

“Anyone who works in retail in Ontario is invited to complete the survey,” says Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor in Brock’s Centre for Labour Studies. “It will provide important information about what people are experiencing personally.”

The survey, launched this week, is anonymous and takes about 15 minutes to complete. It will be live until March 8, International Women’s Day. The survey is one component of a larger study Coulter is leading on gender and pay in retail.

The Ontario Pay Equity Commission awarded Coulter a grant to study the retail sector and the “gender wage gap.” The gender wage gap refers to the difference between what women and men are paid. In Ontario, women are paid 74 cents for every dollar paid to men.

One factor influencing this gender pay gap is that “women are disproportionately represented in low-paying, largely non-unionized sectors like retail,” says Coulter. “Yet comparative and preliminary statistical research reveals that there are gender inequities within the retail sector, as well.”

Coulter is leading a research team that includes Angella MacEwen, an economist at the Canadian Labour Congress, and Sheetal Rawal, a lawyer with expertise in pay equity issues. Coulter’s team is gathering statistical, policy, survey, and legal data to shed light on problems and solutions.

“Most front-line retail workers in Ontario are making low or modest wages,” explains Coulter. “But pay differences can result from the allocation of hours, who is hired and promoted, and who is assigned to which departments. It is also not uncommon for two workers doing the exact same job to be paid different hourly rates even within the same store.”

Retail is the largest employment sector in Canada. Some 17 per cent of Niagara’s workers are in the retail sector, a proportion that is similar in large cities such as Toronto.

As manufacturing jobs disappear and public sector employers increasingly use part-time and contract positions, the significance of the retail sector as an employer is growing. “This project is designed to better understand the retail specifics in Ontario, and identify the most promising remedies,” says Coulter.

The survey and recent Ontario Pay Equity Commission grant are the latest milestones in Coulter’s research. Her book Revolutionizing Retail: Workers, Political Action, and Social Change won the Canadian Association for Work and Labour Studies 2015 Book Prize.

In December, Coulter’s latest book, Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity, was published. It examines the diversity of work done with, by, and for animals, by interweaving human-animal studies, labour theories and research, and feminist political economy.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded Coulter a grant to further study human-animal work, and specifically what she calls “humane jobs,” those that benefit both people and animals.

“What drives all of my research is a commitment to improving work-lives,” says Coulter. “Respectful, ethical, and sustainable work benefits not only those involved, but our shared communities. I am committed to scholarship that makes a meaningful difference.”

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