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An Open Letter on Equal Pay Day

April 12, 2022

The following letter was sent to the office of the ministers of Community and Social Services, and the office of Culture and Status of Women with the Government of Alberta.


Dear Minister,

I’m writing on behalf of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, on Equal Pay Day, to express our appreciation for the interest your government has for ensuring that important roles retain competitive salary ranges. As Minister Toews said recently in regards to the pay increase for Alberta government managers and non-unionized workers, “We’ve taken a look at the competitiveness of our salary ranges, and we need to remain competitive … We need to make sure that we can keep and retain and attract competent staff.”

We could not agree more with Minister Toews. Many vital roles that serve our communities struggle to remain competitive, and domestic violence shelter staff are no exception. After seven years of wage freezes, shelters are struggling to attract and retain the talent they need to operate. They have served on the front lines during the pandemic, recognized as the essential workers that they are.  Equal Pay Day is a symbolic date that represents how far into the new year women must work to be paid what men were paid the previous year. This year’s Equal Pay Day lands 5 days later than last year’s, indicating the situation is worsening, not improving.

The shelter sector is a distinctly feminized workforce. Women account for 97% of shelter staff compared to 82.4% in health care and social assistance, 69.3% in educational services, and 58.5% in accommodation and food services. As women-serving organizations in the non-profit sector, many external sources of gender inequality influence shelters and their workforce. Research suggests that the nature of shelter work and a phenomenon known as the “care penalty” results in compensation across an entire sector being lower when its jobs parallel domestic work that, traditionally, women were expected to perform for free. This has been borne out in every workforce survey we have done.

Shelter roles require expertise in a wide array of fields, filling service gaps in areas such as healthcare, housing, legal support, addictions, and trauma support. These valuable skills are difficult to recruit and maintain, with salary reported as the primary challenge to attracting and retaining staff in our 2019/2020 shelter workforce survey. Shelter staff have been deemed ineligible for the Supporting Psychological Health in First Responders (SPHIFR) grants from Labour and Immigration even though their salaries, benefits and on the job supports are substantially below those eligible for the grant. While their work is undeniably vital, most first responders receive pensions and employee benefits, including mental health supports, that shelter staff go without.

Shelters have served their communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and throughout staff have battled with PTSD, increased levels of stress, and some have even faced death. In the past months, one of our members has lost three frontline staff members to Covid. One was a childcare worker, who came in to work every day to support the children of women who are fleeing domestic violence. This worker had children herself. These are tragic losses; shelter staff are doing risky and demanding jobs that deserve to be compensated accordingly.

Ensuring that shelter staff do not need to choose between working in this field and financial stability is critical in ensuring that shelters are able to support those fleeing from violence and abuse within their communities. On behalf of our members, ACWS thanks you for paying attention to an issue as important as this. Together, we can work to end domestic violence – in our homes and throughout our communities. We look forward to working with you to ensure shelter staff are fairly and competitively compensated for their work.


Jan Reimer
Executive Director, ACWS