The Struggle for Pay Equity in New Brunswick

A Summary of a Presentation at NAWL’s 14th Biennial Conference

No one can deny that the pay inequities which women experience on the labour market pose great social challenges. Equal pay remains a dream for many women. In New Brunswick as elsewhere in Canada, we are currently seeing important gaps between the wages paid to women and to men for work of equal value. The Coalition for Wage Equity brings together a number of New Brunswick citizens and organizations who seek to correct this unfairness and demand that the New Brunswick government legislate in this matter. Pay equity legislation requires employers to compare the worth of male and female dominant occupations. If this worth is equal or comparable, the salaries paid must be the same.

The Coalition is demanding that the provincial government legislate to ensure pay equity in all economic activity sectors. At this time, New Brunswick’s Pay Equity Act only covers Part 1 of Annex 1 of the Public Service Labour Relations Act. It applies neither to school districts, nor to hospitals or other corporations. The Coalition’s goals are to obtain a proactive pay equity legislation covering 1) all of the public service, and 2) private sector employers.

Failing such proactive legislation, the record indicates minimal progress. Between 1980 and 1999, approximately two decades, we have only seen a 5 per cent increase of women’s salary with regard to men. In the year 2000, New Brunswick women’s hourly wage amounted to only 78 per cent of men’s. If women’s salaries are inferior to men’s because they are taking care of children, there should be no wage gap in the case of women who have not yet married and who are, for the most part, childless. This group of women includes recent university graduates who also experience salaries inferior to those of men by 16 per cent, as soon as they enter the labour force. At this rate, we will never attain equality, nor will our daughters.

Yet, pay equity is not a novelty suggestion but a standard advocated for by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization since 1919. What is the goal of pay equity? Why are we setting our sights on provincial pay equity legislation? Because we see it as a tool, a means to attain this dream of equality between female and male New Brunswickers. It is in this spirit that the Coalition for Pay Equity outreaches to various constituencies, approaching labour unions, employers, the media, the public and political women and men. We work at situating and giving context to the problem of pay inequity experienced by women on the labour market, in order to convince all stakeholders to correct this sorry situation.

Louise Aucoin teaches labour law, environmental law, municipal law and testamentary law at the Faculty of Law at the Université de Moncton, in New Brunswick.