Proactive Pay Equity: It’s Time to Walk the Talk!

By January 3, 2019Columns, Opinion

By Scott Brison, Patty Hajdu and Maryam Monsef

In 1977, ABBA’s Dancing Queen was climbing the charts in Canada, highway signs went metric, Elvis died, and the federal minimum wage was $2.90 an hour.

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It was also the year that the Canadian Human Rights Act became law, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex and putting Canada at the forefront of the movement to ensure equal pay for work of equal value for women.

Forty-one years later, Canada is once again showing international leadership.

Last February, our government delivered Budget 2018 with a focus on gender equality, including a commitment to Canada’s first proactive pay equity system for federally regulated workers. This week, pay equity legislation received Royal Assent to become law.

Equal pay for work of equal value is a fundamental human right. Pay equity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. A strong middle class depends on a job market where all Canadians have a real and fair chance at success.

The Budget Implementation Act tabled in October legislated a ground-breaking new model for Canadians.

Differences in pay which are based solely on gender are wrong. This important issue affects not only women; but all of us. Canadian women are among the world’s most educated. Over the last 40 years, greater participation of women in the workforce has accounted for about one-third of Canada’s economic growth. Over the next decade, gender equality could boost Canada’s economic growth by as much as $150 billion.

But equal pay for work of equal value is not just about economic growth.

It is about children who will get more crucial parenting time because their parents don’t have to work extra hours to make up for losses from wage discrimination. It is about families who can earn enough to save for their children’s education. It is about parents looking out for the future of their daughters and their sons, who may choose to pursue careers in women-dominated fields.

Back in 1977, Canada was also a vanguard leader when it legislated the ability for people to file pay equity complaints.

But like 8-track tapes and platform shoes, some things from 1977 haven’t aged well.

The old pay equity system has a number of drawbacks. It places the burden on employees to file a complaint if they suspect wage discrimination, but some employees are afraid to do so for fear they may lose their job. Complaints can often take many years of costly and divisive court proceedings to resolve.

The old approach simply isn’t working. Across the federal workplace jurisdiction — the federal public service and the federally regulated private sector, comprising about 1.25 million people — for every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns about 87 cents. This gap tells us that we still have work to do.

We have consulted experts and stakeholders, including bargaining agents and employers from several sectors of the Canadian economy, whose  advice and expertise has been vital. The new law reflects the needs of the diverse workplaces under federal jurisdiction – ranging from the public service to small businesses.

It requires employers to regularly and proactively review their compensation systems, identify any gender-based disparities, and take measures to address them. Employees and unions will also play a meaningful role. This new approach will avoid the long and costly litigation of the past.

By working together, we can improve outcomes for federally regulated workers, particularly women. Women have made significant strides in Canada’s paid workforce. Now is the time for meaningful change, built on a strong foundation. When all workers in the workplace are treated fairly – regardless of gender – Canada is stronger.

Scott Brison is President of the Treasury Board of Canada and Minister of Digital Government

Patty Hajdu is Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

Maryam Monsef is Minister for Women and Gender Equality

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