Pay equity regs get bureaucratic nod

By Palak Mangat July 8, 2021

Canada’s first pay equity commissioner is welcoming new regulations slated to come into force on August 31, thanks in part to “sufficient compliance measures” that will bring federally regulated workplaces in line with the concept of equal pay for equal work.

Speaking to media, Karen Jensen said the teeth given to her office through the Pay Equity Act, for which regulations were posted to the Canada Gazette yesterday, is among the “strengths” of the legislation.

“Measures at my disposal include conducting investigations, audits, requiring employers themselves to conduct audits, and, finally, I can administer monetary penalties if I find employers are in violation of the act,” Jensen, who was named to the post in 2019 and reappointed the following year, said on a Zoom announcement Wednesday.

Accompanied by Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, Jensen added such measures will only be used as a “last resort,” and she is hopeful because most workplaces “have shown themselves quite willing to comply.” (In reaction to the news, Canadian Bankers Association president and CEO Neil Parmenter tweeted his support of the “principle of equal pay for work of equal value.”)

Federally regulated employers, like those in the banking, telecommunications and interprovincial transportation sectors, make up about six per cent of the country’s workforce, according to the minister. Organizations, including federal Crown corporations and unions, with 10 or more workers must comply with the regulations, along with bodies like the PMO and those in ministerial and some parliamentary offices.

Once the new rules come into force, workplaces have three years to develop and implement their pay equity regimes, and can consult with the commissioner leading up to that August 31, 2024, deadline. Once their regimes are posted, “payment is due in accordance with that plan,” said Tassi.

Jensen noted fines for non-compliance, which are currently still in development, vary, but the act does “specify” that smaller workplaces and unions can be subject to a $30,000 fine and larger employers can face a $50,000 penalty. Provisions under the act allow for fines to be “imposed on a daily basis,” the commissioner added, meaning workplaces violating the law in more egregious ways could be subject to “pretty significant” levies.

“We’re hoping those won’t be necessary, and we will be able to work with employers to encourage them to voluntarily comply and develop their plans,” she said.

New rules could be ‘model’ for other regions, says Tassi
Designed to tackle the country’s persistent wage gap, advocates like the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada have argued that the regulations are a long-time coming.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, enacted in 1977, it is deemed “discriminatory” for employers to “establish or maintain differences in wages between male and female” workers in the same workplace who are performing “work of equal value.” But a national law requiring the federal public service to align with pay equity only passed in December 2018.

Tassi said she had a meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts in June “speaking about the changing nature of work” and noted that while jurisdictions like Quebec and Ontario already have similar legislation, the federal rules can “be looked to by [other regions] and serve as a model.” Jensen’s mandate dictates she can also be involved in co-ordination efforts with other jurisdictions, the commissioner noted, adding she plans to “branch out” to other regions down the road.

There has been a host of literature in recent years tracking the wage gap across different sectors. A government release on the announcement, for example, notes a woman in Canada earns 89 cents for every dollar a man earns, based on hourly wages.

The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce as well, with the feds acknowledging such “long-standing gender inequities have only been amplified” in the last year. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives paper noted in March the last year has put “Canada’s commitment to gender equity to the test.”

Statistics Canada data shows mothers with children 12 and under, for instance, saw their working hours drop from February to April, due in part to school closures and varying access to child care. While fathers recovered their employment losses by August, about 12 per cent of mothers who were working in February were still out of work or working fewer hours.