The Equal Pay Act celebrates 25 years

This text is part of the Special Guild section

A quarter century after its adoption, the Equal Pay Act has only partially succeeded in its task of closing the wage gap between men and women. The Centrale des union du Québec (CSQ) continues its fight to make it more effective.

When the PQ government headed by Lucien Bouchard adopted the Equal Pay Act in November 1996, the tube macarena Playing on the radio over and over again, Stefan Richer and Shane Corson were on a second tour with the Montreal Canadiens and Quebecers who had just lost their former Prime Minister, Robert Borasa, who passed away a month and a half ago.

So yeah, it’s been a long time. “The entry into force of this law in 1997 was a historic moment, but it was not enough to eliminate wage inequality between women and men,” notes Eric Gingras, president of the Confederation of Central Trade Unions of Quebec (CSQ). According to the union, the average hourly wage gap – which was 15.8% in 1997 – is still above 10%. A woman collected an average of 89 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2016, compared to 84 cents in 1997. A meager five cent gain in nearly 25 years.

This difference remains most pronounced among non-unionists. In fact, between 1997 and 2016, the gap in average hourly wages between unionized women and men decreased from 7.97% to 2.16%. Among non-union women and men, the percentage increased from 21.37% to 15.61%. In addition, it can play other forms of discrimination. For example, women who experience racism earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by non-racial men in Canada in 2015.

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Legal battles

However, the Equal Pay Act has had positive effects. This requires companies with ten or more employees to conduct an initial wage equity exercise and above all assess its continuity every five years, the so-called “Wage Preservation Practice”. The business owner must report the results of these analyzes in an advertisement.

Since the law’s adoption, the struggle has steadily shifted into the legal arena and led to changes to the Equal Pay Act in 2009 and 2019. In May 2018, a coalition of Quebec’s central labor organizations won an important victory in the Supreme Court of Canada. The latter has invalidated some articles of the law.

It also ruled that salary adjustments resulting from retention practices every five years must be retroactive to the time the discrimination emerged. Until then, only employers who saw new wage inequalities had to adjust wages from the time of the review, even if wage inequality existed long before then.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that this system enshrines the unfairness of women over men. Women can be subject to wage discrimination for five years between retention exercises, and if the employer does not rectify the situation on their own, they will have a responsibility to prove wrong, with no hope of a wage adjustment for the duration of the discrimination.

to hear

However, that judicial gain turned out to be half a victory, as unions today challenge the new version of the Equal Pay Act, introduced by the Quebec government in 2019 to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. They particularly regret the possibility of lump sum payments to employees, rather than retroactive salary increases.

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“It doesn’t really make it possible to correct wage differentials and stop systemic discrimination against female-dominated jobs,” Eric Gingras says. It also creates situations in which the employer negotiates lump sums. However, the law applies, can not be negotiated. “

CSQ also criticizes slow processes. In fact, preservation complaints dating back to 2010 and 2015 still need to be resolved. In addition, the version of the Equal Pay Act introduced in 2019 stipulates that the retroactive corrective action for maintenance drills will not apply to complaints made before this new version comes into force.

CSQ intends to make itself heard in the aftermath of 25NS Anniversary of the adoption of the law. “We will be engaged in an advertising campaign with other central trade unions and we will challenge every political party and all representatives of the National Assembly, assures Eric Gingrass. We are also preparing other highlights to bring this critical issue to the fore.”

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