Pay-equity deal will cost Ontario $414 million

Province reaches settlement with 100,000 female public-sector workers

The Ontario government has reached a pay-equity settlement with 100,000 female public-sector workers following an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Charter application.

About 100,000 women in predominately female, public-sector workplaces in Ontario will receive up to $414 million. The settlement covers unionized and non-unionized workers in mostly female workplaces where there are no male job classes for pay-equity purposes.

“This is a tremendously exciting victory for women and their unions who have been fighting the Ontario government to make sure all women are paid wages that recognize the true value of their work,” said Judy Darcy, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The charter application was launched by four applicants and five unions — CUPE, the Ontario Nurses’ Association, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers of America — which represent more than 2,300 public-sector workplaces.

“These landmark settlement funds mean that low-paid public sector women denied their pay equity adjustments because of discriminatory government funding practices will now finally start to receive the equitable wages required by the Pay Equity Act,” said Mary Cornish, a lawyer for CUPE.

Leah Casselman, president of OPSEU, said it has been a long, slow and grinding fight for justice.

“The payouts that will soon go to a huge number of underpaid workers, most of them women, make the fight worthwhile,” said Casselman. “The shame is that the government dragged its heels for so long and only settled in the face of a provincial election.”

Under the settlement agreement, enhanced accountability mechanisms apply to the government and proxy employers to make sure employers comply with pay equity obligations and that the funding requirements for adjustments are properly reflected in budget requests. Estimates from the National Union of Public and General Employees show that, on average, women in the public sector will achieve their full pay-equity rate by 2011 through the phase-in of adjustments at one per cent of payroll per year.

Darcy said while she would like to think the province had a change of heart, the decision to settle probably had more to do with the province worrying about what a judge might rule and the impending provincial election.

A government spokesperson told the Ottawa Citizen that settling out-of-court was the best solution.

“The government thought it was important to achieve an agreement that was win-win for all parties,” said Ministry of Finance spokesman Christian Bode. “It was the best way to balance right for employees and keep a low tax regime for taxpayers.”

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