NAPE v Newfoundland: Pay Discrimination

In NAPE v Newfoundland, the Supreme Court ruled that it was acceptable to pay discriminatory wages to women in order to avoid an impending “fiscal crisis.” NAWL and 99 other groups disagree! We asked the federal government to show its commitment to women in every part of Canada by helping the Province of Newfoundland to pay back the debt it owes to women health care workers.

December 10, 2004

The Right Honorable Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

On the occasion of the 56th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we write to ask you to support and promote women’s human rights in Canada. We write at this time because we feel deeply betrayed by the recent Supreme Court decision in NAPE v Newfoundland. In that case, the Court ruled that it was justifiable to discriminate against women in order to avoid an impending “fiscal crisis.”

As you are aware, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador signed a pay equity agreement in 1988, acknowledging past discrimination against women working in the health care sector and agreeing to compensate those workers for the pay discrimination. But in 1991, the government cancelled the amounts owed to women for the years 1988 to 1991, and, in addition, imposed a three-year delay on the implementation of pay equity adjustments. It justified this policy by invoking a reduction in federal transfer payments, an impending budget deficit, and a possible loss of credit rating on international financial markets.

In total, this policy of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador cost women $80 million plus interest. This is above and beyond what women had to pay, along with all other workers, because of the Public Sector Wage Restraint Act. In effect, women were forced to bear a disproportionate financial burden for reducing government deficits in this period. This amounts to a special tax on women.

The Court’s decision poses a threat to women’s rights. While the Court did say that these were “exceptional circumstances”, we must be concerned that the door will be open to governments and employers pushing to expand the definition of “exceptional”. Further, women must be able to enjoy equality in both rich times and poorer ones; in rich provinces and in poorer ones. While the Court’s decision focused on the cost of achieving equality, it is crucial to remember the real and damaging cost of inequality that harms women and communities.

To demonstrate the commitment of the Government of Canada to women’s human rights, we ask two things. First, we ask you to show leadership on the issue of women’s entitlement to equality by assisting the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to repay the $80 million debt to women health care workers. We believe that the federal government has a responsibility to advance the equality of all women. We also believe that one of the purposes of transfer payments and equalization payments is to ensure that, no matter in what part of the country women live, we can enjoy conditions of equality. When these payments are cut, we suffer. We ask you to show your commitment to women in every part of Canada by helping the Province of Newfoundland to pay back the debt it owes.

Secondly, we ask you to direct officials and lawyers acting for the Government of Canada not to endorse, support or promote the notion that women’s human rights can be ignored because of ‘fiscal crisis.’

In just a few months, April 17 will mark the 20th anniversary of constitutional equality rights in Canada. We hope then to be able to celebrate equality and human rights, not denounce backsliding by our governments and courts. We are counting on you to be an ally in women’s fight for justice, dignity and equality.

We look forward to your reply.

  • Anglican Church, Diocese of New Westminster, Justice and Peace Unit
  • Assault Response and Care Centre, Brockville, Ontario
  • B.C. Coalition of Women’s Centres
  • B.C. Hospital Employees Union
  • B.C. Human Rights Coalition
  • B.C. Teachers’ Federation, Feminist Caucus
  • Bay St. George Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre
  • CALACS La Bôme-Gaspésie (Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel), Québec
  • CALACS Granby (Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel), Québec
  • CALACS Laurentides, Saint-Jérôme, Québec
  • CALACS Région Côte Nord, Baie-Comeau, Québec
  • Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS)
  • Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
  • Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW Canada)
  • Canadian Federation of Students
  • Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)
  • Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW)
  • Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
  • Cara Transition House, Gander
  • Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodations (CERA)
  • Centre-Femmes de Beauce, Québec
  • Coalition for Pay Equity, NB
  • Committee Against Violence, Grand Falls – Windsor, NL
  • Community Youth Network, St. John’s, NL
  • Congress of Black Women (Manitoba Chapter)
  • Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail (Montreal, Québec)
  • Corner Brook Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre, NL
  • Corner Brook Transition House, NL
  • Council of Women of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Dawson Regional Women’s Committee, Dawson, BC
  • Eastern Region Committee Against Violence, NL
  • Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)
  • Fédération des femmes canadiennes-françaises – Section de Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan
  • Fédération des femmes du Québec (Québec)
  • Gander Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre, NL
  • Gateway Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre, Port Aux Basques, NL
  • Grace Sparkes House, Burin Peninsula, NL
  • Grenfell Region Anti-Violence Team Inc., NL
  • Hope Haven Transition House, Labrador West, NL
  • Iris Kirby Transition House, St. John’s, NL
  • Labradorians for Peaceful Communities, NL
  • Langley Teachers’ Association
  • Le Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec
  • Les EssentiElles (le groupe qui représente les intérêts des femmes franco-yukonnaises)
  • Libra House, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL
  • Mokami Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL
  • Multicultural Women’s Organization, NL
  • Naomi Centre, St. John’s, NL
  • National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC)
  • National Anti-Poverty Organization
  • National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL)
  • National Council of Women
  • National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada
  • National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Advisory Council on the Status of Women
  • Newfoundland and Labrador AIDS Committee
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union (NLNU)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre
  • Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE)
  • Nipavut Women’s Group, Nain, NL
  • Ontario Federation of Labour
  • Ontario Pay Equity Coalition
  • Partenariat communauté en santé (Whitehorse, Yukon)
  • Provincial Association Against Family Violence, NL
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada – BC
  • Regional Coordinating Coalition Against Violence Eastern Avalon, NL
  • Réseau action femmes, Manitoba
  • Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Centre
  • Seniors Network, BC
  • St. John’s Status of Women Council / Women’s Centre
  • The Lantern, St. John’s, NL
  • Toronto Women’s Call To Action, Ontario
  • Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights
  • Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon
  • West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Women in Resource Development Committee, NL
  • Women’s Resource Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Womenspace
  • Yellowknife Women’s Society
  • YWCA Canada

Plus (last minute signatures):

  • Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique, Section locale 2745-3,
  • Métis National Council of Women
  • Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW )
  • Women’s Network PEI
  • Antigonish Women’s Association
  • Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre
  • CALACS Entre Elles Roberval
  • Native Women’s Association of Canada
  • Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Nouveau-Brunswick/New Brunswick
  • Federation of Labour
  • NAC-B.C. Society
  • Support to Single Parents Inc
  • EGALE
  • Justice for Girls
  • Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario
  • Canadian Union Of Public Employees
  • Langley Teachers’ Association
  • Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights