MPs Pass Pay Equity Motion

Parliament will strike a special committee to plan a “proactive federal pay equity regime”. The motion’s sponsor called it a step to legislating agencies like Canada Post that have waged decades-long legal battles over equity payments.

“Individual women and individual unions should not have to be fighting this on an ad hoc basis,” said New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson. “We’re delighted to be working in cooperation with the rest of Parliament to get this done so it does not get left to individual women to stand up for their right to equal pay, and it does not get left to the courts – and only lawyers profit.”

MPs yesterday voted 224 to 91 for Malcomson’s motion, that the House “close the unacceptable gap in pay between men and women”; and “appoint a special committee with the mandate to conduct hearings on the matter of pay equity and to propose a plan to adopt a proactive federal pay equity regime, both legislative and otherwise”. The committee must report by June 10.

“We need federal leadership,” said Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C; “The committee will choose its witnesses. We want to hear from all people.”

Canada Post is in its 24th year of a pay equity dispute with the Canadian Postmasters & Assistants Association over unequal pay. Ninety-five percent of members are women. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2015 ruled their complaint had merit, prompting a Federal Court application by the post office for judicial review.

The Crown corporation earlier waged a 29-year legal battle against women clerks that took a 2011 Supreme Court judgment to award $150 million in damages. The claim by the Public Service Alliance of Canada was the longest pay equity dispute in Canadian history to that time.

Malcolmson would not say if Canada Post management would be summoned to testify at the pay equity committee, but said Parliament should enact a federal law to settle longstanding litigation: “Canada needs a framework and to legislate pay equity.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” Treasury Board President Scott Brison said in debate on the motion. “There is a lot of common ground within all political parties in the House.”

“We have no intention of turning back the clock,” Brison said; “Any gap is unacceptable when based on gender. We need to deal with this gap in a balanced and responsible way that ensures women’s right to equal pay for work of equal value.”

Conservative MPs opposed the motion, though one praised its intent. “I was a victim of pay inequity on several occasions throughout my 32-year career in engineering,” said Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.

“I was given a zero bonus one year even though I was top rated,” Gladu said. “I was told the company was on hard times, and it was. However, my male counterparts each received between 5 percent and 10 percent of their salary as a bonus at the same time. Although laws have been put in place to ensure that men and women are paid equally for the same work, there are still ways to discriminate, including time to promotion, bonuses, and disparity within a pay band.”

MPs cited federal data that most government employees are women, 55 percent, while the number in executive positions is 46 percent.

By Mark Bourrie

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