This has been a problem for so long I almost forgot about it. Last I heard the matter was dropped by the BC provincial government about 20 years ago so I’m not surprised that it is still a problem, I’m just really sad.
I gave birth to my oldest child in 1997 and went on Employment Insurance’s Maternity Leave at the time for approximately 6 months and I was laid off the day I returned to work. We lived in BC and I took my case to Employment Standards and Human Rights and both said I didn’t have a case. I went back to Employment Insurance and they said I didn’t have enough hours. I felt betrayed that my rights to guaranteed work after Maternity Leave had been denied. Thankfully I had sent out 300 resumes while on Maternity Leave because I didn’t trust or like the company (a division of BC Tel) I was working at when I went on Maternity Leave and I got a great new job. I was lucky though because we came within weeks of being homeless with a brand new baby. My husband could not have afforded to pay the rent by himself. The other problem my husband and I had was finding child care which was impossible. You basically had to register your name at one of the child care companies in Vancouver BC, LONG BEFORE you even got pregnant to have a spot before your Maternity Leave ended. Starting work was a real struggle because my baby had colic from food allergies. There were many days when either my husband or I went to work on no sleep. It didn’t matter that I was nursing I had to watch what I ate because every time I ate soy/lecithin my child would cry for hours and that is when I started to read food labels and learn about food allergies/sensitivities. It is also how I met Dr. Janice Joneja and who I have been following ever since. I have since heard about a few other women who encountered this problem returning from Maternity Leave.
Canada’s continuing gendered pay inequity means that many women earn less than they should. Lower salaries for women is an integral part of the feminization of poverty.
Both in the past and in the present, women have earned less than men, particularly women who have jobs that are historically female dominated such as nursing, teaching, cleaning, or clerical work. Although the wage gap between men and women in Canada has narrowed in the past ten years, women still only earn approximately 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. For Aboriginal women, women of colour and racialized or new immigrant women, the wage gap between their earnings and the earnings of white men is even greater than the wage gap between white men and white women.
There are factors other than sex discrimination that explain why gendered wage inequities persist. However, effective and proactive pay equity legislation is one of the few tools that forces employers to examine why employees in traditionally female jobs may be paid less than other employees.
There ought to be a law
Like employment standards legislation, whether you’re covered by a pay equity law depends on which province you work in.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of provinces adopted pay equity legislation, although not everyone is covered, particularly workers in the private sector. Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI have pay equity legislation that covers public service employees. There are pay equity policy frameworks in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, and pay equity negotiations with public sector unions in Newfoundland, but no actual laws compelling employers to ensure there is pay equity in their compensation practices. Ontario and Quebec are the only provinces with comprehensive pro-active pay equity legislation that covers both the private and public sectors.1 Furthermore, Quebec has recently tabled legislation to strengthen its pay equity law.
The federal government is moving in the opposite direction and undermining the statutory entitlement to pay equity. Following the 2004 report of the Pay Equity Task Force, the federal government has been under pressure to adopt stand alone pay equity legislation similar to Ontario or Quebec’s. However, the federal government has recently adopted watered-down, stand-alone pay equity legislation for the public service (private sector employees will continue to be covered by the pay equity provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act.) The new Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act:
• Waters down the definitions of female job classes and the value of work.
• Redirects any employee pay equity complaints from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to the Public Service Labour Relations Board. Unions, traditionally the organization that filed pay equity complaints on behalf of its members, will be fined if they assist employees with a complaint.
• Makes pay equity a bargaining issue to be dealt with by unions and the Treasury Board as part of the collective bargaining process, thus making it possible for the most vulnerable workers to have their right to pay equity traded for some other benefit at the bargaining table.
This new law is a step backwards in the struggle for pay equity, and it will likely face a court challenge to see if it is a constitutional change. Pay equity, after all, is also a right protected by the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
LEAF and Pay Equity
LEAF has been involved in several pay equity cases before the courts.
In Haldimand-Norfolk Regional Board of Commissioners of Police et al v. Ontario Nurses Association et al (1990), the Ontario Nurses Association successfully argued before the new Pay Equity Tribunal that nurses should be in the same compara – tor class as police in the municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk. LEAF sponsored the intervention of the Equal Pay Coalition which argued that the purpose of the newly enacted Ontario Pay Equity Act was to promote equality for women and that a new interpre – tation of the Act to exclude a larger number of women from its benefits would be incon – sistent with section 15 of the Charter. The decision was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
LEAF intervened in NAPE (Newfoundland Association of Public Employees) v. Newfoundland before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court accepted LEAF’s arguments that the Newfoundland government discriminated against female workers by paying them unequal wages which was contrary to section 15 of the Charter. However, the Court ultimately ruled that this was justifi – able under section 1 of the Charter because discrimination against women was justified in this case if a severe fiscal deficit overrides the government’s obligation to remedy wage discrimination.
The decision in NAPE shows how much work LEAF has yet to do in the area of equality rights and social justice. The new federal pay equity legislation also shows that increased efforts in the area of law reform are necessary.
Ontario Pay Equity Commission
Federal Pay Equity Program
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Union and NGO Resources
Equal Pay Coalition
Canadian Labour Congress
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Pay Equity, Laws and Policies
Federal: Human Rights Code
British Columbia: Human Rights Code
Manitoba: Pay Equity Act
New Brunswick: Pay Equity Act
Newfoundland and Labrador: An Act Respecting the Protection of Human Rights
Nova-Scotia: Pay Equity Act
Ontario: Pay Equity Act
Prince Edward Island: Pay Equity Act
Quebec: Pay Equity Act
Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code
Yukon: Human Rights Act