When the Governor General prorogued Parliament in December, the Harper government’s controversial, and nearly fatal, fall economic update was effectively dispatched to the dustbin of history. But while the government has reversed its projections and shelved its plans to eliminate per-vote subsidies for political parties, it has not dropped one of the update’s more controversial promises—a legislated change to the rules governing pay equity.
The Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act would see issues of equal pay for men and women in the public service dealt with through collective bargaining between union and employer. Complaints would no longer be the business of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but would instead be referred to the Public Service Labour Relations Board. The Conservatives say this will lead to speedier resolutions of disputes. Critics argue the new legislation will effectively gut the right to equality in the workplace.
The Canadian Human Rights Act, for instance, dictates that the value of work be assessed on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. To those criteria, the new legislation would add consideration of “qualifications and market forces.”
“The purpose of pay equity was to, in fact, intervene in order to redress what the forces of the market had done to women’s pay,” explains human rights lawyer Mary Cornish. Adds Margot Young, a law professor at the University of British Columbia: “There’s a wide consensus that pay equity is a human right. The new legislation effectively treats pay equity as if it’s not a human right.”
Ironically, both Young and Cornish expect the new legislation, which has been promoted as an attempt to cut down on lengthy litigation, to eventually be challenged in court.