Revising the Pay Equity Act

Revising the Pay Equity Act

Following a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Québec government was forced to amend the Pay Equity Act to guarantee equality between men and women. The APTS had an initial meeting with government representatives to let them know what its members expect, especially in terms of retroactive payment.

January 17, 2019 | The APTS was right in the middle of its Convention on May 10, 2018 when delegates received the news: the Supreme Court of Canada had just sided with the APTS and its union partners in a decision that we’d all been waiting months to hear. It declared that some of the amendments made to the Pay Equity Act in 2009 were unconstitutional, including those that ruled out any possibility of retroactive application following a pay equity audit. After trying to buy time for a number of years, the government finally exhausted all its legal options for appeal. The Supreme Court, after recognizing the overarching right to equality between men and women, suspended the unconstitutionality ruling for one year to allow the government time to rectify its law.

Months passed without any sign that the Liberal government intended to invite the APTS and other unions to play a role in rewriting the law. So it came as a wonderful year-end surprise when the ministry of labour, employment and social solidarity in the new CAQ government contacted the APTS president between Christmas and New Year’s. The acting assistant deputy minister invited us to a consultation meeting on issues pertaining to the implementation of the Pay Equity Act. The ministry wanted to know our concerns and proposed solutions, particularly on the pay equity audit process, the way complaints are handled, and the participation of unions and employees.

At this meeting on January 15 that was held in Montréal, APTS spokespersons highlighted the need to attach greater importance to pay equity audits, which don’t receive the same consideration as the initial evaluation. One way of doing that would be to include mandatory participation in pay equity audits for employees in large organizations, and to post enough information for employees to be able to verify the audit results. They also recommended a shorter period between audits (which are currently conducted every five years), and a review of the list of organizations considered to be under the Treasury Board, to ensure full-fledged pay equity for women working in the public and parapublic sectors. To top it all off, the APTS called for retroactive payment dating back as far as 2001, of sums owed to women employees who have be unfairly paid.

Before this major gain was achieved, however, the initial decision handed down by Québec’s Superior Court in 2014 had to be confirmed by two courts of appeal. The amendments introduced in 2009 clearly violated the spirit of the law adopted in 1996. The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling has just confirmed that from now on, any change in employees’ work that is likely to create a pay gap between predominantly female and predominantly male job classes will have to be duly recognized and compensated at the time the change occurs.

This legal victory at the same time drove home the importance of the union movement for all employees. The APTS was fighting for all women in Québec, not just for its members. It defended a principle – that discrimination based on sex cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.

Lead photo: Jonathan Fortin and Robert Comeau, pay equity co-ordinator and political officer, respectively, presented the APTS recommendations for revisions to the Pay Equity Act.

by Chantal Mantha | with Jonathan Fortin | January 17, 2019