Mr. Speaker, as I was indicating to the House, the 570 page report of the task force on pay equity received a less than adequate response from the government. The response was two pages in length and certainly not comprehensive.
It is our hope that the situation will be addressed, because the task force report clearly outlines that there is an issue with pay equity in this country and that the current complaints based system is not working. The proof, as I said, is in the numbers. Today a woman earns 72.5¢ for every $1 that a man earns. For aboriginal women, women of colour and racialized or new immigrant women, the wage gap between their earnings and the earnings of white men is even greater than the wage gap between white men and white women.
For pay equity to be truly realized, which is equal pay for work of equal value, comparisons between different types of female predominant and male predominant jobs need to be made in order to locate and remove wage discrimination.
The impact on women of sex-based wage disparities is reflected in the rate of female and child poverty, with its adverse consequences on the health, well-being and future of Canadian women and their children. Since pay inequity contributes to poverty, it can have devastating health and social consequences for children, such as poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and poor concentration and performance at school, as well as social isolation.
Pay inequity is also related to economic dependence, which affects a woman's ability to leave an abusive relationship. Many women are compelled to face beatings, threats and even the possibility of death at the hands of their abusers because they are unwilling to condemn their children to poverty if they leave the relationship.
It is also true that women bringing home lower paycheques also receive lower retirement incomes. Too often, senior women live hand to mouth until the end of their lives.
Interestingly enough, achieving pay equity can have a number of benefits for employers. In addition to the reduction of wage discrimination, it facilitates the rationalization of compensation systems, which frequently become convoluted and cumbersome over time. It also demonstrates to employees in female predominant occupations that the organization is committed to the fair treatment of all employees performing different types of work. In these ways, pay equity can contribute to more efficient management and improved morale among employees.
I would like to point out why our current pay equity legislation does not work. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, complaints are not particularly well suited to addressing forms of discrimination that are subtle, largely unintentional and integrated into complex systems--in other words, systemic discrimination.
In February 2001, Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, stated: “Major pay equity cases are at a virtual impasse because of the current system. We believe it is time the government made the necessary changes to ensure that pay equity becomes a reality”.
Allegations of human rights violations tend, by their nature, to generate a defensive reaction and lead to litigation and delays. A complaints based approach produces uneven implementation since employers not targeted by complaints often choose to keep a low profile and refrain from taking any initiatives on pay equity. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that it takes significant knowledge and resources to mount major pay equity complaints, which generally means that they are filed only by unions. The end result is that people performing female predominant work in non-unionized, federally regulated settings have benefited little from the federal pay equity provisions.
There are also potential competitive disadvantages. If an employer voluntarily launches a pay equity study or is the only organization in a specific sector to be the focus of a complaint, perhaps because it is unionized while competitors are not, the result may be that it is the only player in the industry to pay the price of correcting wage discrimination.
While competitive pressures are no excuse for maintaining discrimination, it does not seem sensible that a business should in effect be penalized for implementing pay equity. Also, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, there is ambiguity with respect to standards and concepts. More complete guidance on the meaning of terms and criteria for assessing compliance can usually be provided in the context of a proactive legal regime that is applicable to all employers.
The Canadian Labour Congress is also critical of the current legislation. It maintains that there is a lack of clarity about the nature of employers' obligations and consequences of non-compliance with pay equity obligations. Current legislation does not provide enough guidance on acceptable standards and methods for achieving pay equity.
Ken Georgetti, the president of the CLC, outlined the critical need for pay equity. He stated:
The arithmetic does not work for ordinary working Canadians.
The government squanders huge surpluses while workers can't find child care for their kids, can't get training to do their jobs better, can't protect their pensions when companies go bankrupt or can't get the money promised for pay equity.
Furthermore, the CLC contends that the current legislation is, instead, vague legislation that encourages and prolongs costly litigation, which women, especially non-unionized women, women of colour and poor women simply cannot afford. Consequently, the model fails to ensure that the average woman worker will see her pay equity complaint resolved and actually be paid equal pay for work of equal value.
Pay equity is a human right protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act. The current law prohibits differences in wages between female and male employees who work in the same establishment and perform work of equal value. We need to live up to our obligations outlined by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Canada also needs to live up to its international obligations on pay equity. Convention No. 100 concerning equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value, the equal remuneration convention adopted by the International Labour Organization, ILO, in 1951 and ratified by Canada in 1972, requires that governments take active measures to achieve equal pay for work of equal value.
The international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1966 and ratified by Canada in 1976, lists equal pay for work of equal value as a fundamental right and stresses its importance to the achievement of fairness in conditions of work. The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, adopted by the UN in 1979 and ratified by Canada in 1981, commits signatories to removing employment discrimination against women, in part by ensuring equal pay for work of equal value.
It is quite clear what needs to happen. Canada needs to adopt a new pay equity law. The federal government should develop a new, proactive, stand-alone pay equity law. The law should meet all domestic and international obligations and should frame pay equity as a fundamental human right.
The proactive components of the legislation should include an employer's obligation to review pay practices and identify gender based wage discrimination gaps. Employers would also have a duty to develop a pay equity plan to eliminate pay inequities within a specific timeframe.
Canada also needs to expand coverage of pay equity to aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. Pay equity legislation should apply to aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities as well as women. New pay equity legislation must create mechanisms to measure and eliminate documented systemic wage discrimination against these disadvantaged groups.
This legislation should protect all employees.
All employees in the federal jurisdiction should be covered by a new pay equity legislation act, including non-unionized employees, part time, casual, seasonal and temporary workers, employees of Parliament, and federal contractors covered by the federal contractors program.
Any new law should involve employees in pay equity plans.
All employers should have the obligation to work with unions and employee representatives through a pay equity committee. The committee would be responsible for developing a pay equity plan and monitoring any progress made to eliminate the wage gap. At least half of the representatives on the pay equity committee should be women workers from predominately female job classes.
This legislation would also need to have non-sexist evaluation methods. Evaluation methods used to review predominately female and male job classes should be equal and free of gender bias.
The legislation should ensure that pay equity is not negotiable. Pay equity is a non-negotiable human right. It should not be included in the collective bargaining process. Pay equity needs to be addressed separately to identify and remedy past pay discrimination against women and other equity groups.
Canada's legislation should have sustainability. An employer should have an obligation to maintain pay equity once a plan has been implemented. Where there is a union, the union would share the responsibility to ensure that pay equity is being respected in the workplace.
There also needs to be a pay equity commission. A new Canadian pay equity commission should be created to administer the pay equity law. This commission would provide education and assistance to employers, unions and employees, review complaints, conduct investigations and conduct random workplace audits. It would offer advocacy services for unrepresented workers, conduct research, and issue orders to ensure the law is enforced.
The government should provide enough human and financial resources to allow the commission to effectively administer the pay equity legislation.
Finally, we need to create a pay equity tribunal. A new Canadian pay equity hearing tribunal would need to be set up to adjudicate disputes on any issues which arise in the implementation or maintenance of pay equity. It should be an expert tribunal, knowledgeable about pay equity and equality rights.
The Conservatives have clearly ignored the 500 page pay equity task force report saying that there is no consensus when there has been consensus to this report, a very clear consensus. The government has no intention of addressing inequality between the sexes in this country. This has been proven by its reaction to this report, its cuts to Status of Women Canada, its changes to the mandate of that department, and the elimination of the court challenges program.
Conservatives want to take Canadians back 25 years instead of moving Canada ahead. They are also eager to waste taxpayers' money by holding more consultations with stakeholders when the 2004 report was not only very thorough but is available for action now.
The Liberal Party's record is not much better. It had the chance to act on the 2004 task force report and failed draft legislation. It did not take the initiative to implement proactive pay equity legislation even after very high profile court cases.
It is not very clear to me why the Conservative government refuses to draft new legislation. In 1998 the now Prime Minister described our current pay equity law as follows:
For taxpayers, however, it's a rip-off. And it has nothing to do with gender. Both men and women taxpayers will pay additional money to both men and women in the civil service. That's why the federal government should scrap its ridiculous pay equity law.
He also pointed to specific flaws in the current legislation:
Now “pay equity” has everything to do with pay and nothing to do with equity. It's based on the vague notion of “equal pay for work of equal value”, which is not the same as equal pay for the same job.
Just to be clear, in 1998 the member who is now our Prime Minister did not support the complaints based pay equity legislation now in place. Now that he is in government his party refuses to draft new legislation to remove the complaints based model. I am wondering if the Prime Minister has reversed his position or does he not believe in pay equity at all. It is my great fear that it is the latter.
Considering the Conservative government's recent attack on women's rights, it has become clear that Canadian women are going to have to fight. Women, sadly, have not achieved equality in this country. I promise to fight for equality and fight for proactive pay equity in this country. We need it now.