Yesterday was International Woman’s Day, and while I wouldn’t identify myself as a feminist, I do consider myself a humanist in the sense that there should be equal rights for all individuals. As I was sitting around bantering with my mother yesterday evening, with CBC’s Power and Politics playing in the background, we began to debate the issues of equal pay for women, a topic that dominates much of the discussion surrounding equal rights for women. Our discussion inspired me to write a piece about the legal issues of pay equity in New Brunswick, highlighting what progress the province has made, and what problems still exist that additional legislation would resolve.
The province passed a bill in 2009, Bill 87 – Pay Equity Act, which places a legal obligation on public sector employers to ensure equal pay for men and women. Section 9 of the act states how the legislature envisions employers meeting pay equity obligations:
(9) An employer shall be deemed to have complied with this Act when the employer adjusts its compensation practices so that female-dominated classifications are assigned rate of pay equal to the average or projected average rate of pay of male-dominated classifications performing work of equal or comparable value.
This bill establishes a bargaining process between a female employee representative, or other bargaining agent appointed through the Public Service Labour Relations Act, and the employer. During the bargaining process, the representative and the employer establish a job evaluation system, and apply that to female dominated and male dominated jobs. The effect of this is to highlight the differences in pay of women performing the same value work as men in separate jobs. The end result is for wages in female dominated jobs to be adjusted to match the men’s if there is a pay discrepancy.
Some feminists have experienced backlash from the news and social media because they define women’s rights in comparison to men, which is exactly what this bill does. But, what other proficient methods are available that address the issue specifically? I think this is a step in the right direction, but it does not remove the stigma associated with women in the work place, but simply ensures it does not prevail. Furthermore, the pay equity bargaining process has been criticized as being too slow, taking up to two years for inequities to be resolved once a bargaining agent has been established, and negotiations begin between them and the employer. The bargaining process is positive in that it is inclusive, ensuring a female representative, and potentially a female representative from the field of employment being reviewed, is part of the bargaining process. So while the pay equity process may reinforce defining women’s rights in relation to men, at least a woman is at the head of the discussion.
Keep in mind Bill 87 only addresses the public sector, and employers of the private sector remain off the hook as far as having a legal obligation to ensure equal pay. In commemoration of International Woman’s Day, CBC New Brunswick covered a story yesterday about pay inequity in the province in comparison to other Canadian provinces with similar economies. The chair for New Brunswick’s Coalition for Pay Equity, Vallie Stearns-Anderson, said employees in the home care sector make 61 percent of the Canadian average. The prolonged bargaining process is attributable to this discrepancy. Anderson has also indirectly criticized the bill as being insufficient, claiming the pay equity problem in New Brunswick stems from inadequate legislation, and legislation that fails to cover both the public and private sector. Pay equity is an ongoing battle, and it is up to both men and women to hold government accountable for allowing the problem to persist.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.