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Unequal Opportunity Companies in Funeral Service

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

On Tuesday afternoon, while casually drinking coffee and reading the Saskatchewan Human Rights code on my chaise lounge I happened to peruse a section 3 on Prohibition of Certain Discriminatory Practices…... Before I go any further, know that I am a funeral director, social justice warrior and millennial.

Previously I wrote an article about women in funeral service. I refuse to let go of poor working conditions and the lack of employee rights within the field. This article will probably be applicable to you, if you are an educated professional who is being drastically underpaid in an industry which is not mandated by a union.

The funeral industry is divided largely by 2 age groups:

  1. The old boys club, which consists of men over 50, who have worked in the funeral industry for many years. Men of this demographic are funeral home owners and managers, who acquired their position many years ago. Sadly, some of these menexemplifythe stereotypicalbehavior that “old boys club” implies.Not all of them, however, adhere to the patriarchal standards which so many new employees fear and loathe.

  2. The newbies. This demographic includes both younger and older people who started after the 1990’s.

There are a lot of companies who claim to be equal opportunity employers. These companies provide an approximate 3% annual increase for full time employees, in order to match inflation. In many industries requiring post secondary education, the actual starting salary for a professional today does not reflect the current rate of inflation, as starting salaries have not significantly increased from the 1990’s.

So let us get down to the brass tacks. At my last job, my starting salary was $42,000 annually. I am a licensed professional. I went to school for 2.5 years and had to do two 13 month internships, for each specialty, to become a funeral director and embalmer. Much of my internship was unpaid. The fees for my education were $26,000. The company I worked for was considered an equal opportunity employer. They offered a 3% increase for every consecutive year for which I was employed. That is a salary increase of $1,260.00 after the first year. I worked there for over 4 years and my annual salary was approximately $45,000 when I left, just shy of year 5.

My colleagues had all worked for the company during or before the 1990’s. At that time, the starting salary with the company was approximately $42,000 annually. Yes, the same amount as it is for funeral directors today. Many of my co-workers had been with the company for over a decade and were earning $70,000 or more. This is considered enough for a comfortable lifestyle, and is approximately the starting salary of clergy and teachers today.

In order for me to earn that same amount of income as my coworkers, I would have to stay with the company for approximately 18 years. It will be 2037 before I would reach $70,000.

Any wages which are beyond that of minimum wage, have no standard in any of the provinces. This is the grim reality all across Canada both within and without the funeral industry.

When I would ask for a raise, I was told my annual increase was a raise and it wasn’t in the budget. We have a lot of old timers who justify paying educated employees starting wages of what was acceptable in 1990. These managers and owners justify such wages, because that is what they were started out at. This is why you have a lot of old guys bitching about millennials’ in the workforce. The problem is, you could buy more in 1990 with $42,000 than you can in 2019 and $70,000 annually won’t pay the rent in 2037.

The loophole that many of these employers are using, is an oversight in the employment act in each province all across Canada. Here is the section of the applicable act for Saskatchewan found in section 3 subdivision 4 of the Saskatchewan Employment Act:

SASKATCHEWAN EMPLOYMENT Subdivision 4 Discrimination in Pay Prohibited No discrimination in pay 2‐21(1) No employer shall pay an employee of one sex at a rate of pay less than the rate paid to an employee of another sex if: (a) they are employed by the employer for similar work that is performed in the same workplace under similar working conditions; and (b) the performance of the work requires similar skill, effort and responsibility.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if a payment differential is made pursuant to a seniority system or merit system. (3) No employer shall reduce the rate of pay of any employee in order to comply with this section. (4) If an employer has contravened subsection (1), the employer is not, after that contravention, entitled to reduce the rate of pay to which an employee is entitled on the grounds that the work is subsequently performed only by employees of the same sex. (5) No employer shall pay an employee a different rate of pay on the basis of any prohibited ground, as defined in The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, 2018, unless The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, 2018 permits the different rate of pay.

Above we can note that the first paragraph, regarding equal wages for similar jobs. The second paragraph states the first does not apply due to situations of seniority. In Canada, discrimination in pay and fair wages regarding inflation is not regulated beyond minimum wage, since we are a capitalist society.

In the past decade there has been an influx of women coming into the workforce as professionals. The unequal pay situation, based on gender is still prevalent due to:

  1. Employers still believing that the annual increase for new professionals is sufficient

  2. The demographic of female graduates, now outnumbers male graduates in the funeral service education program.

  3. Women are not likely to receive a raise because older men believe that at some point, they will get pregnant and need to take time off for maternity leave and provide child care. Older men, and most of society have the belief that women will be the primary caregiver. This belief continually comes to fruition because our wages aren’t enough to live and pay for outside child care.

  4. The industry has long been known as a male dominated profession and still has a lot of older men in positions of power. These men still hold old fashioned beliefs of what a woman’s place is and what they are skilled at.

The annual increases by some companies would be sufficient if they were starting employees at a competitive salary. Unfortunately, there has been no mandate in funeral service, to match starting salaries with inflation and we have had no union or wage standard. Employers encourage staff to keep information around their wages and salaries tightly under wraps. Rather than have employees make waves, they make subtle threats that the individual will never work in the industry again. Employees in funeral service are being paid salaries which were satisfactory at the time when their superiors started. When asking for an increase they are scoffed at, and considered entitled, since the previous generation never received anything beyond their 3% increase.

The problem we face today as professionals today, is that the guys who justify employee starting salaries, at the same level as pre 1990, are the boss. They are networking, and they are the ones setting the standard. Perhaps they haven’t done the math, but this is the reason why, when they complain that nobody new wants to stay with the company, or when they can’t find staff we should not be taking them too seriously. If they wanted their industry to grow and attract talented new professionals then they would be paying staff a fair salary. Regardless of their ignorance it is unforgivable until it is rectified.

Edited By Amy Setka.

Check out my YouTube channel Kari Peters Passing. Like, subscribe and share with your friends and family. Some great information about ways families can be involved with the preparation of the celebration of life ceremony. While planting some trees and helping the environment at the same time.


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