Commentary  Editorial: Repeal Harper’s anti-equity pay policy

With the stimulus budget passed through Senate Thursday, the Conservatives managed to slyly pass legislation based on broken ideology that denies women’s right to equal pay for work of equal value. The new “Equitable Compensation Act” puts an end to federal public servants’ pay equity complaints processes at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, replacing them with a collective bargaining approach. By placing a human right like pay equity on the negotiating table, women in Canada are one step further from gaining their deserved equality.

The Conservative philosophy turns to market forces to determine equal pay. These same market forces have discriminated against women for centuries by holding salaries for jobs traditionally associated with women – like nursing or child care – at lower levels than those stereotypically associated with men.

In short, market-based determinants for “equitable compensation” are fundamentally opposed to the concept of “pay equity,” which stresses that the value of training and skills should determine comparative wage levels. There is still much work to be done to rectify these discrepancies. In Canada today, women holding university degrees earn just 68 cents for every dollar that men with university degrees earn. On average, women earn 70.5 cents to the male dollar.

No one is pretending that the cranky bureaucratic process of filing pay equity complaints was problem-free, but removing the right to defend your human right to equitable pay is unacceptable. Theoretically speaking, workers can still file grievances over pay discrepancy with the Labour Board, but must do so without support of their unions; no federal public servant has the stamina or resources to single-handedly take on the government.

Policy makers should seriously reconsider recommendations for proactive pay equity legislation, brought forward by the government-appointed Pay Equity Task Force in 2004. The Task Force’s proposed steps would require employers to improve pay imbalance independent of a complaint process. Despite providing a road map, the Liberal government never got going with the recommendations; the Harper government backed right over them.

This bill sends shivering messages to provincial legislators who decide their own labour laws. Since Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba remain the only provinces with proactive pay equity legislation, the federal government should be leading by example and implementing forward-thinking wage-distribution models.

And while Harper is reverting to an Orwellian “modernization” of equitable compensation, Obama’s first bill signed into law – a highly symbolic moment – was legislation that made it easier for women to sue their employers for pay inequity.

Though the budget has passed, several sections will be under review before being implemented, including the “equitable compensation” legislation. If Canada wants to proclaim its high regard for women’s rights, Canadians must force their government to repeal this draconian, anti-women policy.