Eleven years and waiting for workers owed pay equity payments


PAY EQUITY AMOUNTS TO BIG BUCKS for a lot of workers in Canada. But actually getting the pay equity adjustment can be a long time coming—a very long time. Right now thousands of health-care workers in Quebec are waiting to receive payments as high as $52,000.

Unions representing the workers estimate that $1.15 billion is owed in pay equity for complaints first filed in 2010 and 2015.

The unions are still pushing the government for a payment date.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), noted that only “a handful of institutions are announcing dates.”

Due tens years of top up

Robert Comeau, president of APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux) says, “The APTS reached an agreement in June 2021, which stipulated that the employer had six months to pay the amounts due. We are still waiting.”

According to APTS calculations, dental hygienists who were at the top of their scale in December 2010, full time, and still employed in 2020, could receive $16,000; assistant heads of records, $36,000; dietitian-nutritionists, $35,000 and speech-language pathologists in the same situation, $52,000.

The principle of achieving pay equality is well established in Canada. All jurisdictions here have equal pay legislation (Ontario since 1988) and some also have proactive pay equity legislation.

Proactive legislation key

Proactive pay equity legislation puts the onus on an employer to introduce a pay equity program. Thus, employers are required to work with the union, or with employees if no union exists, to introduce a program that raises women’s wages by comparing and re-evaluating predominantly male and female jobs and adjusting differences in pay between those considered of the same value.

Federal government legislation on pay equity is brand new. It’s Pay Equity Act, came into force on August 31, 2021. It is proactive. The pay equity regime set out in the act aims to ensure that women and men in federally regulated workplaces, including the federal public and private sectors, parliamentary workplaces and the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, receive equal pay for work of equal value.

But equity won’t come quickly. Employers will have three years to develop and implement their proactive pay equity plans.

Equal pay is not pay equity

Equal pay laws require equal pay for men and women doing equal or similar work for the same employer, in the same workplace, under the same conditions and with equal responsibilities.

Pay equity laws require equal pay for work of equal value—regardless of whether or not it is similar—assessed by reviewing the skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions of the jobs.  

Using these measures allows for making fair and accurate comparisons between jobs men typically do, like truck mechanic, for example and jobs women typically do, like bookkeeper and judging them of the same value and so worthy of the same pay.

In Ontario and Quebec pay equity legislation applies to all employers except private sector employers with fewer than 10 employees.

The more things change ...

Statistics Canada reports:

  • Canadian women still only earn 89 cents for every dollar Canadian men earn

  • The two largest factors explaining the remaining gender wage gap in 2018 were the distribution of women and men across industries, and women’s over representation in part-time work. These were also the largest explanatory factors behind the gap in 1998.

  • Nearly two-thirds of the gap in 2018 was unexplained.

The report also notes that the reason the statisticians were not able to use their empirical measures to pin down why the wage gap still exists may be due to “unobservable factors, such as gender-related biases.” Namely, the belief that women are simply not worth as much as men

Negotiations between the Quebec government and workers in the  health-care sector, last summer resulted in an agreement to make pay equity adjustments retroactive to 2010-15. Payments have still not been made.

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