PSAC promises a long, hard court battle if the legislation is passed

Budget bill attacks pay equity for women, union says


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to sneak through legislation that will deny women in the federal public service – including several hundred Nunavummiut – the right to be paid as much as men for work of equal value, Jean-François Des Lauriers, northern vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, charged last week.

Across the board in Canada, Des Lauriers said, women make only 70 per cent of men's wages for work judged to be of equal value based on skill, effort and responsibility required, and working conditions.

He promised a long, hard court battle if the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act is enacted as part of the omnibus Bill C-10.

"It's unconstitutional, what they are trying to do," he said. "It will mean years and years and years of court challenges, and the federal government will fight us tooth and nail."

Canada's first federal pay equity legislation was enacted in 1977, and PSAC was involved in the first pay equity complaint filed against the federal government in 1982.

It led to a "huge, lengthy court battle, involving tons of lawyers and millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers money," said Des Lauriers, before it was settled in women's favour in 1999 and the government was ordered to make major back pay adjustments.

What PSAC finds unconstitutional is that the current bill attempts to remove pay equity's status as a human right protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and make it just one more item to be discussed at the bargaining table.

"It's unacceptable that human rights should be negotiated," Des Lauriers said. "Human rights are inherent rights, and not to be bargained away," especially in a situation where the employer often occupies the stronger bargaining position, he added.

PSAC has 166,000 members across the country, 4,000 of them in Nunavut, including federal, territorial and hamlet staff, and workers at Qulliq Energy.

Up to 1,200 PSAC members across the three territories are federal employees, including Parks Canada and RCMP staff, and about 60 per cent of that number are women who will be affected by the legislation.

PSAC's other complaints against the Public Sector Compensation Act, as currently proposed, are that it:

• narrows the definition of the "female predominant" job category to include only positions where women make up at least 70 percent of the work force;

• allows the marketplace to decide whether or not different jobs are of equal value – when pay equity issues originally arose specifically to address inequities in the marketplace;

• forces women to make their claims as individuals before the Public Service Staff Relations Board – with a fine of up to $50,000 against any union for encouraging or helping their own members file a pay equity complaint.

"That's complete nonsense," Des Lauriers said. "Unions are legally obligated to represent their members. This would make it illegal to do the job we're legally mandated to do."

He added, the legislation, if passed as proposed, would "set the human rights of women back by at least 30 years," and although it is included in the implementation legislation for the federal budget that is supposed to serve as an economic stimulus in tough times, Des Lauriers said "it will do nothing to improve the economic outlook of the country. If anything, it will help demoralize federal public servants even further."

Des Lauriers said he was both shocked and astounded that Nunavut's MP Leona Aglukkaq, who as federal minister of health participated in cabinet discussions about the budget legislation, would support the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.

"We were all pleased and proud to see a woman and an Inuk coming into the federal cabinet," Des Lauriers said.

He noted that as a territorial cabinet minister in the last government, before she was elected to federal parliament, Aglukkaq was the woman responsible for the status of women in Nunavut for several years.

"She was a strong advocate for women's rights."

But Aglukkaq told CBC she is "in full support of speeding the process up," which she said is the intent of the proposed legislation.

The bill has passed second reading and has gone to the finance committee for hearings. It is still possible to revise it before it comes back to the House of Commons for the final vote.

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