Those who believe the popular rhetoric about structural discrimination against women in the workplace and see the state as the proper instrument to remove inequality, will be happy to learn that Ontario has passed what is I considered to be the most far-reaching “equal pay” legislation in North America. Bill 154, An Act to Provide for Pay Equity, covers all public sector employers, as well as all private employers, with the exception of those with fewer than ten employees. All businesses covered by the law will have to devise a so-called pay equity plan in which they set out how they will remove the inequality between the wages paid to men and women.
Unlike the straightforward notion of equal pay for equal work, which has been law in Ontario for several decades, the new pay equity plan compares dissimilar jobs on the basis of their being male- and female- dominated. All pay equity plar1s must therefore include a job evaluation and job comparison scheme, to be , negotiated between employers, unions, and non-union groups of employees. In the event that no agreement can I be reached, the final decision lies with the Pay Equity Commission. The Commission is comprised of the Pay Equity Office, which is responsible for administrative and enforcement matters, and the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal, responsible for hearing objections and complaints. The Tribunal’s decisions are final and conclusive for all purposes.
Companies with more than 500 employees have three years to meet the deadline for establishing a pay equity plan, while those with between 10 and 49 employees must do so within six years. The public _sector must start to apply a wage plan within two years. All employers are required to spend a minimum of 1% of their total annual payroll to make the required pay adjustments until pay equity is achieved.
Even a cursory look at the contents of the new law reveals that this bill sets the stage for complicated and potentially expensive disagreements between employers, unions and non-union employees. It also allows a great deal of discretionary power to the Pay Equity Commission. The law provides that any employee, group of employees or bargaining agent may file a complaint with the Commission when it is dissatisfied with its company’s pay equity plan. If a review officer is not able to effect a settlement or if employees are not satisfied, the complainants or the review officer may request a hearing before the Hearings Tribunal.
It is safe to predict that the following list of issues will become the source of endless wrangling:
- the determination of whether discrimination exists in specific instances;
- the selection of the comparable male-dominated classification;
- the selection of the criteria used to establish comparability (i.e., skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions), and the weight assigned to such criteria;
- the selection of an appropriate pay equity plan, as well as a job evaluation expert;
- the competition between various classifications, and between various unions (or union and non-union groups) in one establishment;
- the burden of a great deal of paperwork imposed on businesses, a burden that will add greatly to the cost of a business in Ontario;
- the extensive discretionary power of review officers and the Hearings Tribunal.
The regulations, which are a set of procedural rules for the operation of the Pay Equity Commission are still to be published.
Rest assured that instead of overcoming perceived inequalities and injustices, this law will engender arbitrary and costly meddling by bureaucrats into most businesses operating in Ontario. The new act boldly asserts that its purpose is “to redress systemic gender discrimination in compensation for work performed by employees in female job classes.” The reality will be very different because the equality campaign is based on assumptions rooted in ideology, not reality; most destructively, it is based on envy, not justice.
Is there no discrimination then? Have women not been unfairly treated? Of course there is, and of course they have been. But the way to overcome this is by promoting equality of opportunity, especially in education and training, not by imposing an extensive bureaucratic machinery of the state that is bound to compound rather than solve problems.
Feminists are gloating and statist-oriented unions are pleased. But June 15, the day Bill 154 was passed with the support of all three parties in the Legislature, was not a good day for Ontario. One Conservative member of the Legislature explained that he felt forced to vote in favour because he would be scared to face the wrath of the feminists. No wonder some of us worry about the future of democracy in our province.