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Pana Merchant

The Hon. Pana  Merchant, B.A. Appointed to the Senate by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien, Senator Pana Merchant represents the province of Saskatchewan and the Senatorial Division of Saskatchewan. She has served in the Senate of Canada since December 12, 2002.

Pay Equity and Bill C-10

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Published by Senator Grant Mitchell on 17 March 2009

Canadians understand that there was a great of urgency to pass Bill C-10 in the Senate. It contained a key stimulus package so important to jobs and support for those who have lost them.

What was uncovered in our Senate Finance Committee hearings, however, made its passage even more time sensitive. The government had agreed that the committee could take until the end of the March to pass the bill, as it was thought that no measures could take effect until April 1, 2009 anyway.

Minister Flaherty, however, during his testimony before the committee, called an official to the table who revealed a clause in the budget bill that meant that every extra day that we took to examine the bill could deny the proposed 5 week extension to people about to reach the end of their 45 week EI benefits.

This had not been evident before and now became the pressure for passing the bill immediately.

There are issues contained in the bill that I and many others really disagree with but felt we had to accept for now so as not to impede the implementation of stimulus package.

The quid pro quo in allowing the bill to pass is that the Senate is going to conduct a full public examination of the bill in the weeks to come. This will allow us to assist in rectifying the problems (and in some cases injustices) and to allow the public to voice their concerns.

I feel very uncomfortable with the provisions in the bill concerning pay equity. Here is my analysis:

• Women in the federal public service will no longer be permitted to take pay equity issues to the Human Rights Commission.

• Mr. Harper argues that this can be handled in the collective bargaining process. But why would anyone trust this process when Mr. Harper has trumped that process with pay gaps and would have prohibited strikes if he had not been stymied in the fall. This just days after the government signed collective agreements with public sector unions.

• Now, union members who do not get satisfactory resolution of pay equity issues through collective bargaining can only appear before the Labour Relations Board. But if their union helps them prepare and present their case, the union is fined $50,000.

• Moreover, federal public servants who are not in the unions would not even have recourse to collective bargaining. They are dependent upon their employer’s responsibility to identify pay equity issues on their behalf. This, of course, would be the same employer who has been responsible for the existence of their equity issue in the first place and that is under constant budgetary pressure - hardly giving them the predisposition to solve pay equity issues.

• While a unionized woman will at least have the power of the union behind them in the first step (negotiations), non-unionized employees will never have the force of the union or any other organization behind them. So, they would not have the power of the union at any point.

• How can Mr. Harper think that individual women could possible afford to present a credible case before a government board that will have virtually unlimited resource in comparison to those available to them?

• There is more. Mr. Harper has limited pay increase for public sector employees to 1.5%. So, what will occur if, say, a 10% increase is required to equalize a group of women in the collective bargaining unit? The math is that the rest of the employees will have to get less than 1.5% if the overall pay increase is to meet the 1.5% ceiling. A government that has perfected pitting one group or region against another will have done it again.

• They have increased the threshold for a “predominantly female” group to 70% from 55% and 65%.

• They have replaced equal pay for work of equal value with “equal compensation”. But they do not define it. An equal compensation issue exists if the appropriate authority determines that one exists. The term has not had benefit of years of legal clarification. While they say they are adhering to international protocols, international protocols use the term equal pay for work of equal value. They say that their new term allows for compensation provisions beyond just pay. So does equal pay for work of equal value.

• Officials have admitted that there are no studies that establish that there might be some cost savings.

• They also say that pay should be market driven as thought it is some panacea. Of course, it was market excesses that have created the current economic crisis. And, how can anyone say that the market has not sustained prejudice and bias throughout history?

• At one point, an official appearing before the Senate Finance Committee said that the Public Service Commission had an obligation to protect women’s rights, once again suggesting that it’s acceptable for women to be put in a position where they have no resources to defend their own rights.

• A widely consultative task force on pay equity recommended that it never be relegated to the collective bargaining process.

• Collective bargaining is negotiation and it is unacceptable to negotiate rights. They are not by definition negotiable.

These are points that need to be taken into consideration in my opinion in determining how we need to fix the legislation when we form government.

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