Robyn Benson, PSAC

Pay equity: 75 years away?

women pay equity.jpg

At the current snail's pace of improvement, says a recent report by Oxfam-Canada (summary here), pay equity for women worldwide will be achieved--in 75 years or so. Can't wait! No, seriously, folks. We can't.

Canada's nine million wage-earning women are now earning 71% of what men make, even if women do better in unionized workplaces. But cheer up! We're doing better than the average country in the G20--a group of the world's most developed countries. Feel better? Well, I don't.

In every part of the world, women are fighting for social and economic equality. Some of us may be better off than others, but it's still a struggle to be recognized as equals. And here at home, our progress has been stalled for many years.

Our own fight for pay equity is a perfect example of what women are up against. We spent years taking on past governments to win a historic pay equity payout in 1998 of more than $3 billion for 200,000 past and current members of the PSAC, and we've been fighting more pay equity battles ever since. But the Harper government has made its opposition to women's equality crystal clear.

Almost as soon as the Conservatives won their first election in 2006, they've hacked away at gender equality. Besides scrapping a national childcare plan, they closed most Status of Women offices, and de-funded the Court Challenges program that helped women and minorities fight for their rights under the Charter. So deep is the government's dislike of equality that it even struck the word "equality itself from Status of Women Canada's mandate!

On pay equity specifically, the government changed the law in 2009 to make complaints almost impossible to file. They can no longer be made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but must be sent to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, which has little experience in these cases. And only individuals may take a case to the PSLRB: unbelievably, unions are threatened with heavy fines if they help or even encourage a member to do this.

The current law makes unions and the employer equally responsible for achieving pay equity at the bargaining table. In other words, human rights, once something we were supposedly born with, are now a matter of negotiation. And, if the employer fails to pay up on pay equity, the union is now blamed for not forcing them to. That's the law--a true cat and mouse game.

In a way, though, making it illegal to help our members, and then blaming us when we don't, is a backhanded compliment to the unions. The government knows that we have been in the front lines on this issue. They know that unionized workplaces are more equitable than non-unionized ones. The current government has had to resort to drastic legal measures in response.

But we're not about to accept anything of the kind. We don't bargain human rights. We demand them. And there's no way we'll accept that 75-year delay, either.

Women can't afford to wait. And we won't.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 5, 2014 8:00 AM.

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