Thank you, Madam Chair.
Honourable members, good evening.
Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to take part in this discussion about pay equity in the federal jurisdiction.
Our chief commissioner Marie-Claude Landry sends her regrets for not being here today.
I would like to introduce my colleagues. Mr. Piero Narducci is acting director general of the promotion branch of the commission, and Ms. Fiona Keith is senior counsel with the commission. Both have considerable experience in pay equity matters.
Today I will focus my remarks on the work of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, our role in equal pay for work of equal value, and why we believe a proactive model is the best way to achieve pay equity in Canada.
Before I go into my comments on pay equity, let me take a moment to tell you about the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The commission is Canada's human rights watchdog and operates at arm's length from the government. We are here to bring attention to human rights issues and promote the values of equality, dignity, and respect that are so important in Canada. We do this through our work in research, policy development, outreach, and education.
We are also here to bring a voice to important human rights issues. When we believe that the human rights of an individual or a group are being threatened, we speak out. We believe we have an obligation to speak out on behalf of Canada's most vulnerable people.
Over the course of the last year, our chief commissioner has travelled around the country and met with over 100 stakeholder groups. She heard them. They told her that even more needs to be done to promote Canada's vision of an inclusive society. And above all, we need to ensure that everything we do is focused on helping people, by putting people first.
The commission serves a protection function by administering the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Each year we receive and review up to 2,000 discrimination complaints based on 11 grounds of discrimination such as race, age, sex, and disability. Some of these complaints are given priority if the alleged discrimination appears to be systemic in nature, since such complaints could involve practices or actions likely to affect many people. Some complaints that are time-sensitive or involve someone in a particularly vulnerable situation are also given priority.
Most of the complaints will be referred to mediation. Should mediation fail to resolve the complaint, the commission may launch an investigation. However, in some situations, when warranted, the commission may refer the complaint directly to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a separate and independent organization. Should the commission refer a complaint to the tribunal, we may participate in the case to represent the public interest.
The recent ruling involving first nations child welfare services is one example. A second example is the commission's participation in discrimination cases involving caregiving, and in particular the obligation of employers to accommodate these needs.
We have other powers under the act, mostly under section 20, to help bring attention to human rights issues, including the authority to submit special reports to Parliament. This was the case in 2001 when the commission presented a special report to Parliament on pay equity, called “Time for Action”, where we advocated for legislative change to ensure that pay equity is applied systematically and not on a case-by-case basis. Then, as now, we were motivated by the need to help Parliament navigate these important and sometimes complex pay equity issues.
This brings me to the commission's role in bringing about equal pay for work of equal value.
The principle of non-discrimination in wages is a well-established part of international human rights law. The right to pay equity was embedded in the Canadian Human Rights Act when it was created in 1977. This means that pay equity is legally protected as a fundamental right.
The commission's responsibility for pay equity is founded in section 11 of the act, which indicates that:
It is a discriminatory practice for an employer to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value.
In 1986, following extensive consultations, the commission adopted the equal wage guidelines to assist in the interpretation of section 11. The guidelines address gender predominance, what work may be compared, how wage adjustments should be calculated, and what “reasonable factors” may justify wage differences that would otherwise be deemed discriminatory.
These guidelines have proven helpful to the parties and the tribunal in interpreting and applying the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. It is important for you to know that the process for receiving and addressing public sector pay equity complaints changed in 2009 when the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act was enacted but not proclaimed in force. As a result, a transitional arrangement was put in place. For the past seven years, as part of this transitional arrangement, public sector complaints have been rerouted to the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. As a result, the board has temporary jurisdiction to interpret and apply the pay equity provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act. However, the board does not use the commission's guidelines.
Complaints from private sector employees under federal jurisdiction continue to be handled by the commission.
This brings me to my final point: our views on the best model to move forward. The commission has in the past described the challenges in dealing with pay equity complaints, including in the 2001 report to Parliament that I mentioned earlier. With the potential for significant financial remedies and the law providing very little guidance in relation to the obligations of the employer and employee associations, the process has often been very litigious. Uncertain outcomes lead to hardship for both employers and employees. Some complaints, for instance, have taken decades to be resolved.
As we indicated back in 2001, the commission continues to believe that a proactive model is the best way to bring about pay equity in Canadian society. Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba all have proactive models that outline steps and timetables for the achievement and maintenance of pay equity in the public and private sectors. The proactive model has the advantage of ensuring broad implementation, reducing the need for complaints, fostering management-union co-operation, reducing ambiguity, making nondiscriminatory wages a priority, and achieving pay equity at a clear point in time without the need for large retroactive pay awards.
In conclusion, equal pay for work of equal value is a human right, and human rights are about putting people first. The current regimes do not provide easy, consistent, or efficient access to pay equity for anyone, which is why we support a more proactive pay equity model.
My colleagues and I would be happy to answer your questions. Thank you.