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McGill to hand out $5 million in pay equity

Agreement comes after 12 years in court and conciliation

After 12 years of wrangling with the administration, both in court and at the conciliation table, employees across the University will see approximatively $5 million in additional pay equity adjustments.

Since 2001, a relatively new provincial law has mandated McGill – as well as employers across Quebec – create internal pay equity models to assess and redress differences in compensation for persons who occupy positions in predominantly female job classes.

The McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), whose membership represented the largest number of female-dominated job categories at the University at the time, contested the pay equity model developed in 2001 by McGill.

“The model they chose was not in fact legal. They made an alteration to the line that made no sense that reduced the amount they had to pay out,” MUNACA VP Finance David Kalant told The Daily.

The original payout totaled close to $6 million, according to MUNACA President Kevin Whittaker.

MUNACA and several of its members lodged complaints with the Quebec Pay Equity Commission, who decided in October 2004 to investigate the McGill pay equity model without first formally hearing the complaints out in court.

According to MUNACA’s lawyer, Johanne Drolet, McGill immediately filed an injunction with Quebec’s superior court, arguing that the Commission could not independently decide to investigate pay equity models.

MUNACA waited over four years to be heard by the superior court, and just a few weeks shy of their hearing, the Quebec Equity Commission offered McGill and MUNACA to mediate a conciliation process. In the winter of 2009, both parties agreed, and since have been at work on hashing out a new equity model.

According to Drolet, McGill was not the only large employer – and not the only university – to make these types of contestations.

“Especially when it’s a new law, employers will try the law, and try and see if their interpretation could be the correct one,” she said.

The new pay equity agreement will see more employees in female-dominated positions receive compensation than the 2001 plan, and additional payments made to some female-dominated positions that were already adjusted under the original plan.  The University will be responsible for compensating anyone who held these positions from 2001 until 2009 – including those who have retired from McGill.

The University is required to make these payments within 12 months.

The University will not have to pay interest on these retroactive payments, something that MUNACA considered contesting, but decided not to in favour of expediency.

Interest on $5 million is “globally probably a large number, but for each individual it’s not worth waiting another ten years,” Whittaker told The Daily.

The administration has repeatedly pointed to pay equity as a burden on the University’s operating budget in the context of provincial budget cuts, a point of view for which Whittaker has little sympathy.

“I’m sorry that the University has to pay that out now during these financial woes but this was something that they did to themselves. Had they paid it out when they should have, 12 years ago, or at least discussed it, we wouldn’t be in this mess that we’re in.”

The Pay Equity Act also requires that employers perform audits every five years to determine whether pay equity is being maintained. The audit performed in 2010 by the University was also contested by MUNACA, both on the grounds that it was calculated according to an illegitimate pay equity model, and that the lack of information relayed to employees about the audit process and the adjustments themselves put McGill in violation of the Pay Equity Act.

“They put numbers up, but it wasn’t maintenance,” Whittaker said.

MUNACA is currently in conciliation with the administration about re-doing the 2010 maintenance according to the new pay equity plan, and hopes to resolve the issue before the end of the year.