‘Ottawa’ Liberals Promise ‘Proactive’ Pay Equity Legislation to Close Wage Gaps
The Liberal government is promising new pay-equity legislation that will put the onus on employers in federally regulated industries to ensure men and women are paid equally for work of equal value.
But the government is being criticized for a timeline that won’t see the legislation tabled until 2018.
The Liberals’ approach will reverse the radical overhaul of pay equity the previous Conservative government took with the Public Service Equitable Compensation Act, which critics argued effectively killed workers’ rights for equal pay for work of equal value.
Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said Wednesday the legislation will take a “proactive” approach that’s aimed at helping employers comply with the law rather than forcing employees to lodge complaints about discriminatory wages.
Such complaints in the past have resulted in costly legal battles that are “burdensome, costly and unfair to workers,” she said.
The government intends to draw on the recommendations of the special parliamentary committee on pay equity, as well as consultations it plans with experts and stakeholders for reforms that will force employers to review their compensation systems for gender-based wage disparities and fix them.
The government expects to table the legislation by the end of 2018. It will cover 874,000 workers and 10,800 employers, including public servants and employees of Crown corporations and federally regulated companies such as banks, airlines, telephone and cable companies, and radio and television broadcasters.
Treasury Board president Scott Brison said the government should be setting an example.
“The government of Canada is one of the largest employers in Canada. I can assure you that we will lead by example. Our government will move beyond the current complaint-based approach to pay equity,” he said.
“Canadians deserve equal pay for work of equal value. They should receive it when it is earned, not years after through fighting in courts.”
Public service unions strongly supported proactive legislation but were disappointed that it won’t even be introduced until 2018.
“There’s no need to wait. It is an issue that has been studied enough,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Robyn Benson, president of the giant Public Service Alliance of Canada, said delaying the tabling of legislation until 2018 runs the risk of the law not being passed before the next federal election in 2019.
She argued there was no need for further study when Ontario and Quebec already have experience with proactive pay equity laws.
She also called on the government to immediately repeal the Tories’ Public Sector Compensation Act, which took away the right of women in the federal public service to file pay equity complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
“The least the government can do is restore this right immediately,” Benson said.
PSAC won a historic $3.2-billion pay-equity settlement for federal public servants in 1999. That complaint, which took 15 years to settle, affected 230,000 current and retired federal employees in six female-dominated occupations, from clerks and secretaries to librarians.
After that, pay-equity issues languished in the political wilderness for years until a special parliamentary committee studied the issue.
The Conservatives’ legislation took pay equity out of the Canadian Human Rights Act for workers in the broader federal public sector — including departments, Crown corporations, agencies and commissions. The regulations were never finalized and the legislation hasn’t come into force.
In February, the NDP proposed a motion calling for special parliamentary committee to study pay equity, which the Liberals backed. The committee delivered its final report to Parliament in June.
With a proactive pay equity, employees don’t have to file complaints, which have been bogged down in long, costly battles. Rather, the onus is on employers to assess their wages and close any gaps.
Earlier this year, the federal government agreed to pay as much as $45 million in backpay to thousands of mostly female employees at a Statistics Canada agency to settle a longstanding pay-equity complaint that went back to 1985.
PSAC still has outstanding pay equity complaints against a handful federal agencies, which fall under the Canada Labour Code — Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety; Museum of Science and Technology, National Gallery, Museum of History and NavCanada.