Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see the Leader of the Opposition back in the House of Commons today.
It is a pleasure to speak today to the issue of pay equity. Contrary to the statements of the hon. member sponsoring the bill we are debating today, our government supports the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Our commitment to this fundamental right is why we acted to ensure a more proactive and timely approach to equitable compensation in the federal public service. Our government's approach has brought much needed reform to the previous complaint based pay equity regime. The previous regime was lengthy, costly and adversarial, and did not serve employees or employers well.
We are fortunate in this country. Canada's public service is among the finest in the world. Canada's public service employs some of the best and brightest people whose work is intimately tied to the well-being of our country. Public service employees work in more than 200 federal organizations and dozens of different occupations, from border guards, to food inspectors and from public health specialists to diplomats. We should never doubt for a moment the importance of what public servants do on behalf of this country.
This point was brought home by the Prime Minister's advisory committee on public service when it stated in its first report:
As a national institution, a high-quality, merit-based Public Service is part of Canada’s comparative advantage and a key to competitiveness in the global economy. It also helps provide the foundation for sound democratic government, which is critical to a positive business climate in Canada.
This proud reputation is what has made the federal public service one of the best and most attractive places to work. Competitive salaries and a full range of family friendly benefits also make the public service attractive for both men and women.
The hon. member raises the issue of gender gap. We have seen significant progress toward greater gender balance in the public service, particularly within the senior ranks. It is worth noting that back in 1983 fewer than 5% of women were in senior management. Today, women make up 43% of the senior and executive ranks of the federal public service. To be sure, women are taking their rightful place in the federal public service. They are not only accessing top jobs but their representation in other categories has also increased dramatically over the years. For example, women now represent nearly 56% of knowledge workers. They also represent about half of the economist group and they represent about 43% of the commerce officer group.
It is safe to say that over the past few years there has been a significant change in the face of Canada's public service and women have played a big role in this change. Today's public service provides women and men with equal access to all positions and identical wages within the same groups and levels. I am proud of the example we are setting for both private and public sector organizations around the world. Remarkable progress has been made in addressing the wage gap between men and women in the federal public service.
The difference between total wages for women and total wages for men has been decreasing steadily. This bodes well for the future. This situation and the need to ensure the strides women have made in the federal public sector continue to be maintained led our government to put in place a more modern approach to pay equity. We took action to end the long and drawn out court cases of the past. It is worth recalling that the last court ruling on pay equity was in 1999, a settlement that took a gruelling 15 years to achieve. We cannot afford any more repeat performances. This is unfair to women. Public service employees deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.
The root of the problem in the previous system is that pay equity issues were raised after compensation decisions were made. Federal public service employers and unions were not required to take pay equity issues into account during wage setting. These issues were only raised when complaints were made. This has led to ad hoc progress on pay equity, a situation that the Canadian Human Rights Commission lamented in its 2001 special report to Parliament.
Those are some of the reasons that our government passed legislation, with the support of many members opposite, that ensures that old ways become a thing of the past in the public sector. The new system makes employers and bargaining agents jointly accountable for setting fair wages, ensures these decisions are made at the time of collective bargaining for unionized employees and imposes a rigorous process to ensure the federal public service employers address pay equity in a timely way for non-unionized employees.
I will underline a key feature of our reforms. The new system maintains the right of women to launch complaints through an independent oversight organization: the Public Service Labour Relations Board. As a neutral third party, established in 1967, the board is well-equipped to ensure fair and objective recourse. It should be obvious to all that we needed to replace the previous complaint based pay equity regime that left us with a lengthy, costly and adversarial process. This was a process that did not take into account the realities of the Canadian labour market.
Moving to an approach that is based on collaboration with bargaining agents, ensures pay equity issues are addressed as they arise and that problems are resolved quickly.
The legislation this government introduced gives us a more modern and collaborative approach. It rids us of the previous system which was archaic, onerous and unfair to women in the public service. Most important, it protects the principal of equal pay for work of equal value. It ensures that women and men continue to benefit from quality working conditions in Canada's public service. Equitable compensation can only be ensured through a proactive, timely and fair system where employers and bargaining agents work together rather than as adversaries. That is what we have put in plan.
Now, the bill in question calls for a repeal of the legislation that created this new approach. By proposing this bill, the Leader of the Opposition is asking women to wait once again. He is asking women to wait for a new system that would cover the federally-regulated private sector. This is a diverse group of employers who would face significant challenges in implementing such far-reaching measures. We understand how difficult this would be for Canadian employers. We have taken a approach to addressing pay equity with this group of employers. We brought forward the pay equity program run by Human Resources and Social Development Canada. This program takes a three-pronged approach of education, mediation and compliance monitoring to help private sector employers comply with the legislation.
Our government has moved forward toward a more just approach. To support the bill before us would be to delay justice once again. Justice delayed is justice denied.
I call upon my colleagues in the House to oppose this bill and thereby support the new system our government has put in place.