The cost of pay equity for businesses is the cost of inequity for women. It’s more than a question of economics, it’s about the value we attribute to women and their contributions to society at large.
It’s been illegal for half a century to pay women less than men for the same work, and the minimum wage is the same for everyone. However, jobs predominantly held by women continue to be undervalued and underpaid. Legislating pay equity for the public and private sectors would ensure all workers are paid fairly.
The Pay Equity Act
New Brunswick has already made important progress to achieve pay equity in the public sector by adopting and implementing the Pay Equity Act, 2009. Nearly all eligible areas of the public service and Crown Corporations have completed a pay equity analysis. That took much more time than it should have.
Many people working in female-dominated jobs in the public service received wage adjustments after the pay equity exercises prescribed by law were completed, proving that our compensation systems contained a gender bias, often unintended. And, beyond gender bias alone, we know the pay gap is wider for some women. So conscious or unconscious biases around race, disability, and sexual orientation – to name just a few – also factor into pay inequity.
The Act does not apply to the private sector, unlike the laws in Ontario and Quebec adopted in 1987 and 1996, respectively. Without a law, people working in female-dominated jobs in the private sector are losing out. In New Brunswick, 70 per cent of women in the labour market work in the private sector. The majority of them, as well as a small proportion of men, work in jobs predominantly or traditionally held by women. They lose a portion of the wages they are owed simply due to the presence of systemic discrimination.
It’s Time to Legislate
Past government efforts to implement pay equity on a voluntary basis have proven ineffective. New Brunswick’s Wage Gap Action Plan, 2005-2010 relied on voluntary measures. Even with increased awareness and support for job evaluations, it is clear that employers do not introduce these measures until the force and clear parameters of a law are in place.
Legislation is necessary to ensure that all workers enjoy the same protections as those guaranteed by the Pay Equity Act, 2009 in the public sector. It’s a question of justice. By choosing not to legislate, the government sanctions the exploitation of women’s work and gender-based discrimination.
New Brunswickers are urging political parties on all sides of the spectrum to adopt pay equity legislation for the private sector. There’s no promise to implement pay equity legislation from the current government. In the last provincial election, three out of five parties supported legislation so it could be an important issue to address for the next provincial election.
There’s a growing consensus on this issue; pay equity legislation for the private sector is inevitable. Earlier this year, the final report from the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation (ESIC) committee recommended the adoption of comprehensive pay equity legislation that covers employees in both the public and private sectors modeled on the Acts of Ontario and Quebec, as well as the recommendations of the 2004 federal Pay Equity Task Force.
A survey conducted by Corporate Research Associates Inc. found that 85 per cent of New Brunswick residents believe it’s important for the government to pass pay equity legislation for the private sector in the province. Moreover, the new federal Pay Equity Act, which received royal assent in December 2018, could propel other provinces towards similar legislation. It’s our turn to act.
After all, pay equity is a human right, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure it is respected. So what are we waiting for? Women in New Brunswick have been patient long enough. We can’t afford to wait any longer.