Evolution of pay equity
On , the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency that brings together governments', employers' and workers' representatives, adopts ILO Convention 100, the Equal Remuneration Convention, in Geneva. Canada is a signatory to the convention concerning "Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value" and ratifies it in 1972.
The Canadian Human Rights Act that applies to federally-regulated employers is enacted in 1977. Section 11(1) of the Act states: "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."
The Act establishes the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which has, amongst others, the mandate to assess and investigate complaints to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of wage discrimination to merit referral to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Following the enactment of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a number of pay equity complaints are filed against the Treasury Board, as the employer of the core public administration, as well as other federal public sector employers.
The Equal Wages Guidelines, 1986, first established in 1978 and revised in 1982 and again in 1986, provide guidance on the application of the pay equity provisions under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Guidelines elaborate on the four factors used to assess the value of work: skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. They also provide criteria for examining whether employees are part of the same establishment; set out a threshold to determine if occupational groups are male or female predominant; and outline reasonable factors that may justify wage differences.
Some provincial governments enact proactive pay equity regimes to replace their complaint-based approach. The first such legislation is introduced in Manitoba in 1986, followed by Ontario in 1987, Prince Edward Island in 1988, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1989 and Quebec in 1996. The new legislation in all of these provinces applies only to public sector employers, except for Ontario and Quebec, which also includes some private sector employers.
In 1999, 15 years after it was first filed against the Treasury Board and following two decisions from the Tribunal, the complaint involving the largest group of employees is settled. It involves significant financial settlements and wage adjustments.
In "Time for Action", a special report on pay equity tabled in Parliament in , the Canadian Human Rights Commission notes that the complaints-based approach is not well suited to address systemic discrimination and that the built-in incentives and opportunities for delay are the most significant challenge for the pay equity regime. The report also underlines that unless employers are targeted by a complaint, they are not required to take any initiatives on pay equity. The Commission recommendations include that a proactive pay equity system be established.
The Government of Canada appoints an independent Pay Equity Task Force (the Bilson Task Force) to conduct a review of section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and make recommendations to improve the federal pay equity legislative framework in 2001. In May 2004, after wide consultations, the Bilson Task Force submits its report entitled Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right to the ministers of Justice and Labour. The Task Force concludes "that the regime in place under section 11 has provided an inadequate foundation for significant and systematic progress towards the goal of pay equity across the federal jurisdiction as a whole."
The report includes 113 recommendations including the replacement of the complaint-based model of pay equity with a new stand-alone, proactive legislation, the increase of union responsibility, as well as the need not only to achieve, but also to maintain pay equity.
In , the Government responds to the Bilson Task Force Report stating that, although it recognizes the contribution of the report, it "does not provide an adequate blueprint for the implementation of pay equity in a broad range of federally-regulated workplaces." In its response, the Government identifies key issues that must be addressed, including the relationship between pay equity and collective bargaining, as well as the obligations of employers and unions. The Government also reiterates its commitment to pay equity and its desire to ensure that any new legislation will be effective, equitable, efficient and sustainable.
In March 2009, Parliament enacts the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, as a separate, equal pay for work of equal value regime for federal public sector employers, their employees, and bargaining agents. The Act is not brought into force as supporting regulations are never completed.
On and in the House of Commons and in its response to the Special Committee on Pay Equity report, the Government of Canada signals its intention not to bring the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act into force and instead to develop a new direction for pay equity.
On , the Special Committee on Pay Equity tables its report titled It's Time to Act. The Special Committee report recommends that the Government of Canada draft proactive pay equity legislation applying to the federal public service, Crown corporations and all federally-regulated companies with 15 or more employees.
On , the Government of Canada tables its response to the report of the Special Committee on Pay Equity. In its response, the Government of Canada states that it strongly believes in the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and the fair treatment of all workers, regardless of gender, and commits to developing proactive pay equity reform in the federal jurisdiction.
The Pay Equity Act came into force on and replaces the complaint-based system in the Canadian Human Rights Act, s. 11, with a proactive pay equity system for public and private-sector federally-regulated employers.
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