Cabinet Silent On Pay Equity

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a major address on labour yesterday made no mention of legislating pay equity as recommended by a Commons committee. The president of Unifor noted the omission.

“Pay equity has to become a reality,” Jerry Dias told reporters. “It’s been on the books for years. It’s really been quiet for so many years, and it’s something that needs to be re-instituted. It’s about fairness to women.”

The Prime Minister in an address to Unifor convention delegates in Ottawa said cabinet considers “labour is a solution, not a problem,” but did not mention pay equity. The Commons Special Committee on Pay Equity in a June 9 report It’s Time To Act said Parliament must introduce legislation within 18 months.

“Trust is high in this government because the trust in the last government was so low,” Dias told reporters; “I try not to get caught up in the weeds. I try to deal big picture. We’re trying to make major changes for Canadians. We’re trying to put people back to work; we need a jobs strategy; we need an auto strategy; we need investment.”

Time To Act urged that Parliament legislate pay equity for some 1.3 million Canadians including 493,000 government employees; an estimated 820,000 who work in federally-regulated industries like banking, broadcasting and inter-provincial trucking; and all federal contractors with at least 100 employees and $1 million in contracts.

Currently pay equity disputes are adjudicated on a complaints basis by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the courts. One 1984 Public Service Alliance of Canada complaint against the Treasury Board took fifteen years to resolve. Another Canada Post complaint ended with a Supreme Court award of $150 million in damages following 29 years of litigation.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, earlier promised a “fulsome response” from cabinet but questioned the call for legislation. “It’s really hard to say yet exactly how our response will be formulated,” Hajdu said. Asked if a pay equity law is needed, Hajdu replied: “It’s still my opinion the gender wage gap is complex and that equal pay for equal value is something that we completely believe in – but we know that it’s not the silver bullet to addressing the gender wage gap.”

Unions ‘Not The Enemy’

The Prime Minister yesterday said he hoped legislators will soon repeal a Conservative labour bill on union certification, but gave no deadline. “If all goes as planned, Bill C-4 will pass the House of Commons officially repealing the oppressive anti-union legislation introduced by the Conservative government,” Trudeau told Unifor delegates. “We know that working people are not the enemy.”

Bill C-4 repeals two measures enacted in 2015: Bill C-377 An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act that mandated public disclosure of confidential union finances; and Bill C-525 An Act To Amend The Canada Labour Code that abolished the card check system in favour of secret balloting to certify new collective bargaining units. The repeal bill has awaited Third Reading in the Commons since May 12.

The Canadian Labour Congress said delays in repealing Bill C-525 have prompted organizers to put union drives on hold. “People are conscious that if there is a major drive going on it would be best to hold off until the repeal bill has passed,” Hassan Yussuff, Congress president, said in an earlier interview.

“Some of our affiliates have been consciously awaiting passage of the repeal bill before they file the particular organizing they are working on,” Yussuff said. “They have deliberately slowed it down.”

Use of C-525 secret balloting rules saw WestJet pilots reject a union in a 2015 vote. Business groups have appealed to MPs to leave the bill in place.

Bill C-377, though still on the statute books, effectively lapsed last December 21 when the Minister of Revenue issued an executive order waiving the reporting requirements. The bill would have required 2016 reporting of union officers’ salaries; local finances; contracts over $5,000; benefits paid through labour trusts; and accounting of time spent by union officers on lobbying, “political activities” and other non-labour matters. All the information was to have been posted on a Canada Revenue Agency website.

By Jason Unrau

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