Recent decision allows employers to have unequal pay levels between male- and female-dominated jobs as long as top rate is the same
By Jeffrey R. Smith
Equal pay for work of equal value — that’s basically what pay equity is about. There is pay equity legislation pretty much everywhere in Canada that’s designed to fix systemic wage discrimination, which usually involves a gap between what men and women make for similar jobs. Pay equity compares classes of jobs that might be male- or female-dominated but have similar duties, and ensures those jobs are paid similar rates.
However, a recent court decision in Ontario has raised some questions about what actually constitutes true pay equity. One might assume that when pay equity is implemented, a female worker should be getting paid the same as a male worker with similar experience and job level, at any time. But this might not be the case.
The Canadian Union of Public Workers (CUPE) recently took two employers to the province’s Pay Equity Tribunal and then the Ontario Divisional Court over job progression by a predominantly male class of service-type jobs at each employer that was much quicker than a similar class of clerical jobs that was mostly female. Workers in the mostly male class moved up through pay levels more rapidly, resulting in a difference of more than $3,000 in income over the first two years of employment.
The tribunal found the discrepancy was fine as long as the top level of pay in both job classes was the same. After CUPE appealed, the court agreed with the ruling, saying that as long as workers in the two types of jobs earned the same amount in the end, they didn’t have to follow the same progression up to that point, and the Pay Equity Act “does not contemplate the elimination of all discrepancies between comparably valued male and female job classes.”
Based on the reasoning in this decision, it appears pay equity doesn’t necessarily mean male and female job classes need to always be paid the same, as long as workers who reach the top level of pay in both classes are. Nor do they need similar timeframes to reach the top. Is this true pay equity? Is it a reasonable practice so employers can more easily manage the complexities of implementing pay equity for types of jobs that may be of a similar level, but aren’t quite the same?