Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act threatens pay equity rights of women
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the proposed changes to federal pay equity legislation in the federal budget. The government had announced its intention to terminate the option for women to file pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and make pay equity a responsibility of collective bargaining between unions and employers.
These changes have now been introduced to Parliament in the proposed Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.
If the Act is approved, unionized employees in the federal public service who have had their right to pay equity violated will now be offered the option of lodging a complaint with the Public Service Labour Relations Board, a tribunal responsible for settling collective bargaining disputes for the federal public service.
For women who are not unionized, however, the responsibility for establishing pay equity will now fall solely on the employer. While employers are legally obligated to guarantee pay equity, women will soon have few options of recourse if their employers do not uphold it.
The Act threatens to narrow legal options for women seeking recourse for pay equity violations. While women may still try to claim pay equity by bringing the federal government to court, this process can be extremely lengthy and expensive and is not an option that many have the resources to pursue.
The federal government is justifying this change by describing the complaints-based process through the Canadian Human Rights Commission as being “lengthy” and “costly”. While this may have been the case, the CHRC offers a court-based process for recourse that treats pay equity in the manner that it should be addressed: as a right.
Pay equity is guaranteed in Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. If it has been enshrined in law as a human right, why will women soon be forced to bargain for it?
The Canadian government’s intention to undermine pay equity rights for women has stood in even starker contrast to the recent changes the United States has made to strengthen. Last Thursday January 29, U.S. President Barack Obama chose as his first piece of legislation to sign into law a bill strengthening legal options for women filing pay equity complaints.
In Canada, all three opposition parties have voiced concerns about the intention of this Act to undermine women’s right to equal pay, and we at CPJ will continue to monitor its status in Parliament.
I can only hope that our government will come to realize the importance of protecting women’s hard-won right to pay equity, and that this new legislation will do anything but.
Mariel Angus is former CPJ’s policy intern.
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