The federal government – Canada’s “New Government” – has decided to take a giant step backwards on the question of equal pay for work of equal value. There is nothing new in their pay equity plan. More than thirty years after the adoption of the Canadian Human Rights Act, women still earn less, on average, than men regardless of their occupation, age or education. Today, a woman working full time, full year, earns on average 71 cents for every dollar a man earns. More specifically Aboriginal women earn 46 cents and women of colour 64 cents on average compared to their male counterparts… this is a shocking statistic. Our equal pay legislation is not working.
In May 2004, the federally appointed Pay Equity Task Force issued a thoroughly researched Report. They found that the current system is ineffective and recommended a new proactive pay equity law, similar to laws in existence in Ontario and Quebec. During the Task Force study, all participants – employers, unions and women’s groups – agreed that a new effective, accessible law which requires positive employer action, provides clear standards and allows access to an expert independent adjudicative body was required.
The Pay Equity Network was formed in response to the release of the Task Force Report. The Network includes eleven national and provincial organizations concerned with women’s economic equality. Among other lobbying efforts, in 2005 the Pay Equity Network gathered the support of over 200 organizations across Canada through a Call For Action on the immediate implementation of the Report’s recommendations. The all party Standing Committee on the Status of Women has twice recommended that the government introduce proactive legislation. In its response tabled September 18, 2006, the Government has ignored both the consensus achieved during the Task Force process and the widespread support for pay equity law reform. Instead they are going back to a system that has proven to be totally inadequate over the last twenty-five years. They say they will make the current law effective through education, inspections and mediation. However, education, mediation and compliance inspections have all been components of government policy since the early 80s. Labour Canada, as it then was, ran this program for years, with no tangible results. Leaving individual women and their unions with only the right to complain has repeatedly proven ineffective, time consuming and extremely costly.
It took fourteen years and hundreds of days in legal wrangles for Bell Canada and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union representing Bell operators to reach a settlement. It has been twenty-three years so far for Canada Post and the Public Service Alliance in their equal pay case and there is no end in sight. These are only two of many examples of the failure of the current, complaint-based system.
On the third anniversary of the release of the Task Force Report, the Pay Equity Network is trying to arrange meetings with the leaders of the all of the federal parties. We want to tell the Prime Minister that his government’s approach is misguided and unacceptable to Canadian working women. We hope to secure the commitment of the three opposition parties to support the introduction of a proactive pay equity. This is especially important with the Liberals given their inaction when they formed the government; they wanted more study of the issue. The time for study and consultation is long past.
We will be telling all the political parties that women employees need a new pay equity system. We need government action which respects the work that stakeholders put into the development of the Task Force Report. We need government action which will bring Canada’s pay equity regime into line with its national and international human rights commitments. We need government action to recognize the contribution women workers make to our economy.
We don’t need to move backwards on women’s equality, which is all that the Conservative government is offering the women in Canada.
Sue Genge is a Canadian Labour Congress National Representative in the Women’s and Human Rights Department. She is the CLC’s representative on the Pay Equity Network.