Thank you, Madam Chair.
Members of the Special Committee on Pay Equity, thank you very much for inviting me today. It's a tremendous honour to appear before you.
I am a professor at the Université de Montréal's School of Industrial Relations, as well as the university's ethnic relations chair. Further to my contribution to gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the area of pay equity, I had the honour of receiving the Governor General of Canada's Award in the Commemoration of the Persons Case on March 8.
My presentation will, of course, build on the report recommendations made by the task force I was a member of. Since the time of the report, I have continued developing my expertise in Quebec, in such areas as labour and management, as well as internationally, through the International Labour Office, on whose behalf I conducted numerous research activities and participated in pay equity missions to a variety of member countries.
The most important recommendation in the task force's report is obviously the first one, which reads as follows:
The Task Force recommends that Parliament enact new stand-alone, proactive pay equity legislation in order that Canada can more effectively meet its international obligations and domestic commitments, and that such legislation be characterized as human rights legislation.
In order to understand that recommendation, it's necessary to consider the current system, in which, pay equity is simply governed by the Canadian Human Rights Act. The pay equity provision in the act comes into play only when an individual files a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in which case, the commission investigates the complaint and makes a decision. Either of the parties can challenge the decision. So recourse through the commission marks the beginning of a very slow, very lengthy, and very expensive judicial process that can go all the way to the Supreme Court. Clearly, that can take many, many years. And when I say the process is very lengthy, I mean it. We have seen cases that took 14 or 15 years before they made their way to the top court and it was decided that wage discrimination did indeed occur and that the complainants were entitled to equal pay.
In Public Service Alliance of Canada v. Treasury Board, it took so long for the matter to be resolved that a number of beneficiaries had died by the time the final decision was rendered. So they didn't see a cent of that money, not to mention that the decision ended up being very expensive for Treasury Board given all the interest that had accumulated over some 15 years.
What's more, unionized workers are really the only ones who can file a complaint. Although the legislation doesn't prohibit other workers from doing so, it's really only possible with the backing of a union. Non-unionized workers, then, in banking and other sectors don't really benefit from this complaint mechanism or lack the ability to file a complaint and see it through to the end of the process. At the current rate, it's estimated that it would take several decades to close wage gaps using this method. As you can see, it's not a very effective approach, and that's why the task force's recommendation references the need to be more effective.
Non-discrimination in the workplace is a basic right, as the first recommendation stipulates. It can't simply be dealt with by way of a few provisions in the Canada Labour Code—it is a fundamental and non-negotiable right. It is unacceptable that, today, in Canada, women working full time year-round earn just 87.8% of what their male counterparts do. Fifteen years ago, in 2001, women were earning 82.2% of what men were, so you can see we haven't made much progress in 15 years. In 2014, Canada had the seventh largest wage gap of all 34 OECD countries. In short, Canada is lagging way behind.
In a 2015 human rights report, the UN criticized Canada for persistent cases of gender inequality. That included a large wage gap and its disproportionate impact on women earning low wages, women from visible minority groups, and aboriginal women. It's a serious problem that has been going on for a very long time; it's a far-reaching issue that is hurting Canada's gender equality track record in the international arena.
It's important to note that progress is especially poor given that more and more women have university degrees. You would think it would have a positive effect, but when the salaries of female and male university graduates were compared, the data showed that, in 2008—the most recent year I have figures for—women earned $62,800 a year, while men earned $91,800. Having a university degree, then, does not guarantee women equal pay.
Proactive legislation, unlike the current system, would eliminate the need for legal recourse in order to receive equal pay because it would require every employer to determine whether unjustified wage differences were putting female workers at a disadvantage.
Understanding why wage discrimination exists is important. Wage discrimination stems largely from biases around women's work. First, it is assumed that women do not need full pay because they are simply a second income source for the family, which is not the case today. Second, it is thought that the skills necessary to perform certain jobs held by women, such as elementary school teaching, sales clerk, and nursing positions, are uniquely female skills inherent to women—a huge bias, I would point out—and that, as a result, employers don't need to compensate them properly because women are just doing what comes naturally.
A third stereotype that contributes to wage discrimination is that women hold positions that are free of responsibility, difficulty, and danger. These biases and stereotypes have a tremendous influence on the methods employers use to assess jobs. Consequently, the value attributed to the work women do ends up being lower than the value attributed to the work done by men, even when their positions involve the same level of responsibility, education, danger, and so forth.
Once the value attributed to a job is lower, it affects wages, and that is ultimately the reason for discriminatory wage gaps. That's what we need to work on, and proactive legislation is precisely the way to make sure things change.
Is everything okay? Can you hear me?