‘This long-awaited legislation is viewed as ground-breaking by many countries in the world’
After a long delay, the Canadian government has finally announced the revised Pay Equity Act will come into effect Aug. 31.
It includes three main functions of “education and promotion, dispute resolution, and enforcement and compliance measures,” says Karen Jensen, federal pay equity commissioner, operating under the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who promised to enforce its implementation.
“If an employer decides not to analyze their compensation practices, to make sure men and women are being paid fairly, I will step in and use the powers I have under the act to require them to do so,” says Jensen. “This long-awaited legislation is viewed as ground-breaking by many countries in the world. It’s seen as containing the necessary ingredients to bring about lasting and much needed change to close the gender wage gap.”
When you look at the average hourly wages among full- and part-time workers, for every dollar that a man earned in Canada, a woman earned 89 cents, says Filomena Tassi minister of labour.
“We can all agree that’s not acceptable and that is something that we needed to change.”
The new proactive pay equity legislation for the federally regulated sector first passed in December 2018. More recently, in November 2020, the government called for feedback on its recently released Pay Equity Regulations, which will support the implementation of the revised act.
The first requirement for employers — with 10 or more employees — will be to post a pay equity plan by Nov. 1, says Jensen.
“Employers have to evaluate the work done primarily by women and the work done primarily by men in their workplaces. They then have to make sure that the work done primarily by women that is of equal value to the work done primarily by men is paid the same. Once that exercise is complete, employers will have to pay any compensation adjustments owing and post their pay equity plans by 2024.”
However, to counter the argument that implementation will be costly for many, the act provides for a phased-in approach and some relief measures for certain employers, such as “the option of spreading out the wage increases over time, if the total amount of the increases is more than one per cent of the payroll,” says Jensen.
Economic recovery cannot be done on the backs of women, she says.
“As Justice Rosalie Abella said in a recent pay equity case before the Supreme Court of Canada, leaving wage inequities in place makes women the economy’s ordained shock absorbers. No one can reasonably expect women to accept lower wages than men because it’s too costly to pay them the same as men who are doing work of equal value.”
When you hear the statement about pay equity being too expensive, it’s actually a confirmation that there are inequalities that continue to exist in our workplaces, says ,” says Filomena Tassi, minister of labour.
“If one can recognize that it’s going to be expensive, it’s an admission that they exist.”
The timing of the implementation is crucial, according to Tassi, as many jurisdictions are re-emerging from the pandemic lockdown.
“COVID has brutally exposed something that women have long known, that without childcare, parents, usually mothers, can’t work. The closing of our schools and daycares drove women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in more than two decades.”
“We need to make sure that women are supported, so they don’t permanently lose the gains that we have seen over the last number of years for greater gender equality here in Canada and around the world,” she says.
A recent IBM study found that advancing female employees is not considered a top priority for 70 per cent of organizations.
Education for employers
To educate employers on what is involved, Jensen and the team have hired pay equity officers to help with the implementation.
“We are developing a series of guidance and information documents that will help employers, employees and unions to understand their obligations and rights under the Pay Equity Act. Some of the terms and concepts in the act are quite technical so we’ve produced materials that make the act easier to understand.”
As well, the organization has introduced a downloadable tool that will assist employers in various mathematical questions, she says.
“The tool then provides a job evaluation instrument, and it does all of the calculations needed to determine if there are any wage gaps in the enterprise. The pay equity toolkit will enable busy employers to comply with this legislation and it can be used by larger employers as a training tool.”
The commission is also introducing an “online dispute resolution platform” that is intended to “help to resolve any disagreements that arise between employers, employees and unions in a fast and fair and economical way,” says Jensen.
After a 13-year long battle, female workers in Ontario long-term care homes won a court decision in 2019 meant to maintain their pay equity rights.