Government Inaction on Pay Equity

Posted 2006-02-01 by Andrée Côté | Jurisfemme Publications – Volume 24,  No. 1, Winter 2006

Federal sector workers have been fighting since 1977 to get their employers – Bell Canada, Telus, Canada Post, Air Canada, and the Treasury Board, for example – to meet their pay equity obligations. They have been waging epic battles, some lasting 10, 15, and even 20 years, against these big companies. The failure of the current system, triggered by complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is glaringly obvious. Isn’t it time the federal government required employers to promote equality and respect pay equity? What are they waiting for?

In May 2004, after long consultations and in-depth research, the Pay Equity Task Force tabled its comprehensive report and recommended the passage of proactive pay equity legislation.

PEN Campaign

In February 2005, the Pay Equity Network (PEN), of which NAWL is an active member, unveiled its “Pay Equity is at the Heart of Equality” campaign on Parliament Hill. More than 200 women’s groups, community organizations, and unions have endorsed the campaign, which calls on the federal government to implement the Task Force recommendations.

In spring 2005, PEN conducted intense lobbying in Ottawa. We met with policy advisors and MPs as well as Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, Minister of Labour and Housing Joe Fontana, and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Liza Frulla. All of the ministers declared their support for pay equity as a fundamental right, but this commitment has yet to translate into concrete action.

Standing Committee Motion

In May 2005, NAWL and the Canadian Labour Congress testified before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women regarding federal government inaction on the Task Force recommendations. The committee members expressed their impatience with the delays and, in a unanimous motion, called for the tabling of a pay equity bill:

The Committee believes that steps need to be taken as quickly as possible to address the wage gap between women and men. The Committee wants to see concrete action on implementation of the recommendations contained in the Pay Equity Task Force report….[T]he Committee wrote to the Ministers of Justice and Labour and Housing asking them to introduce draft pay equity legislation to implement the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force Report. The Committee wishes to reiterate this request by recommending:

"That the Departments of Justice and Human Resources and Skills Development draft and table legislation based on the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force by 31 October 2005 and that the legislation be referred to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women."

Despite our lobbying, the government did not table a pay equity bill. Using an obscure parliamentary procedure – acting on the sly, to state it plainly – the government informed the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that it has no intention of tabling a bill before late 2006 or early 2007. It announced its intention to create a new task force and begin new consultations on issues such as pay equity and collective bargaining, employer and union obligations, the role of pay equity committees and the definition of an “establishment”.

Why did the government decide to reopen issues that were analyzed in depth by its own Pay Equity Task Force? Did it succumb to pressure from employers’ groups? Was it putting on a show to give the impression of being interested in pay equity while doing absolutely nothing to move the issue ahead?

Many women will remember the government’s empty words and broken promises when they go to the polls in January.

Andrée Côté is NAWL’s Director of Legislation and Law Reform.