Pay Equity For A Million Staff

Parliament must legislate pay equity for more than 1.3 million Canadian workers within 18 months, says a Commons committee. Cabinet immediately distanced itself from the recommendation, saying a bill was no “silver bullet” to resolving inequity.

“I think it’s interesting that the only thing anyone can criticize about the report is we aren’t doing it fast enough,” said Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa Nepean-West), chair of the Special Committee on Pay Equity. “It means it must be a pretty good report. It is a very complicated subject, so we want to make sure that we give the government the latitude to come up with the correct legislation and that we have the time to do that because we don’t want to waste any more time.”

The Committee report It’s Time To Act yesterday urged that Parliament pass a pay equity law for all 493,000 government employees including 122,000 at Crown corporations; most federal contractors; and the estimated 820,000 Canadians who work in federally-regulated industries including banking; broadcasting and telecommunications; airlines; railways; marine shippers; inter-provincial trucking; and grain milling.

“Pay equity is a legislated human right and the committee believes the Government of Canada has the obligation to ensure that within its jurisdiction, pay equity is a human right that is promoted, implemented and enforced,” Time said. Legislation should apply to “all unionized, non-unionized, full-time, part-time, casual, seasonal and temporary employees,” the report concluded.

“People shouldn’t have to wait for a human right,” said MP Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West), New Democrat labour critic. “If we were talking about allowing racism to continue in the workplace because we wanted some time, I think most people would say, ‘Hey, that doesn’t sound very good.’”

“Most federal employees are in Ontario and Québec and both those provinces have legislation already, so it’s not such a huge leap for Parliament,” Benson said. “But it’s a big deal for the women who aren’t getting paid.”

15 Employees Or More

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, 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 told reporters. 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.”

Currently pay equity complaints are adjudicated 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.

Time To Act recommended that Parliament create a Pay Equity Commission to investigate complaints, audit companies, award costs and manage a taxpayer-supported legal fund “that can be used by unrepresented complainants in pay equity disputes in exceptional circumstances.” Other recommendations included:

  • • Implement the pay equity law over three years from its approval in Parliament;
  • • Define pay equity terms to include bonuses and “non-salary compensation”;
  • • Apply the law to all federally-regulated companies with 15 employees or more;
  • • Apply it to contractors with at least 100 employees and $1 million in contracts;
  • • Require companies with more than 100 staff to appoint pay equity committees;
  • • Proclaim each March 18 as Equal Pay Day “to raise awareness and broader understanding”.

“We know a lot of work went into this report,” said Minister Hajdu. “We know that a lot of experts testified at the committee, to comprise the recommendations, so we just want to make sure we understand the recommendations.”

“Which one in your opinion seems the most important?” a reporter asked. “It’s difficult to say,” Hajdu replied. “It’s going to require a little bit of thoughtful analysis.” The report followed the Commons passage of a New Democrat motion February 3 that legislators “adopt a proactive federal pay equity regime”.

By Jason Unrau

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