Harper fails to recant cuts to pay equity
TheStar.com – living – Harper fails to recant cuts to pay equity
December 05, 2008. Antonia Zerbisias
Not that women needed another sign of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s flipping off women….
After all, during his first minority government, casualties included a national childcare plan, 12 out of 16 Status of Women Canada (SWC) offices, the court challenges program, which helped women and minorities fight for their rights, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), a research and advocacy group, and the very word “equality” from the SWC mandate.
And, if that were not enough, there was also Bill C-484, so-called Unborn Victims of Crime Act, which legal and medical associations warned could lead to the end of women’s reproductive choices.
Then, last week, when Finance Minister James Flaherty delivered his ill-fated financial statement, he fired another blast at women’s rights.
KABOOM! to pay equity, the idea that women’s work is just as valuable as men’s.
That despite Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which states that, “It is a discriminatory practice for an employer to establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female employees employed in the same establishment who are performing work of equal value.”
But, in seven convoluted sentences, Flaherty not only misrepresented the concept of equal pay for work of equal value, he dumped the onus on obtaining fair and equitable wages on unions.
As if every sewing machine operator and restaurant dishwasher has access to collective bargaining.
Maybe if they did, at least according to the 2001 census, the wage gap would not be as high as, depending on the job, 31 cents on the dollar. (That difference, by the way, did not narrow significantly in the 2005 census.)
Flaherty also used the incomprehensible and misleading phrase “double pay equity,” which supposedly means that, if a woman has union representation, she has pay equity.
Uh … ?
“It’s a thing they made up,” Aalya Ahmad, co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights, told me. “The implication is that they’re somehow not entitled to get pay equity in addition to any wage increases.
“So they’re really distorting what equal pay is, which is equal pay for work of equal value.”
Flaherty also suggested that women could no longer seek redress from the Canadian Human Rights Commission because it is a “litigious, adversarial, and complaints-based approach to pay equity.”
On that, women’s group agree.
The process is so lengthy, so costly and so cumbersome that retroactive compensatory cheques have been made out to women who died waiting for economic justice. One battle, waged by thousands of secretaries, clerks, data processors, librarians, hospital and education workers in the public service, took 15 years to settle.
“Of course the current system doesn’t work,” concurs Ahmad. “But Harper is cherry-picking what’s wrong with it without looking at what has already been advanced to fix it.”
That’s why the Ad Hoc Coalition endorses the recommendations of the federal Pay Equity Task Force in its 65-page 2004 report, Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right.
It proposed pro-active legislation that would shift the responsibility onto employers to eliminate discriminatory practices and pay scales.
Needless to say, progressive women’s groups would prefer to see the Harper government out of power, especially since the Liberal-NDP accord promised, among other things, “improved child benefits and an early learning and child-care program,” as soon “as finances permit.”
What’s more, both parties support pay equity.
Which leads to the most revealing aspect of all of the Harper government’s action in recent days.
Note how it recanted on other contentious aspects of last week’s economic update.
But on pay equity?
Honey, you know where you can stick it.
Antonia Zerbisias is a Living section columnist. email@example.com. She blogs at thestar.blogs.com.