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LETTER: Coalition of 125+ B.C. groups call for pay equity legislation

‘We have paid a staggering price for government inaction,’ open letter says
FILE – Gisele Pageal (left), Human Rights Director of Communications Energy Paperworkers Union of Canada, and Barbara Byers, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress, announce their chocalate lip campaign at a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 to Members of Parliament regarding pay equity for women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

Dear Premier David Eby, Minister Katrine Conroy, Minister Niki Sharma, Minister Harry Bains, Parliamentary Secretary Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary Kelli Paddon, Parliamentary Secretary Janet Routledge,

The provincial government has undertaken the process of developing pay transparency legislation for B.C. We the undersigned organizations and individuals urge you not only to ensure that legislation is robust and effective, but more importantly to also enact intersectional pay equity legislation well before the next election.

We echo the sentiments of your NDP colleagues from 2001 in unequivocally stating that women and people who are marginalized because of their gender are being systematically underpaid for work of equal value compared to the wages their male counterparts earn – especially those who are racialized or have a disability.

The free market has not, and will not, correct this on its own, and we need a law to address this entrenched discrimination.

Minister of Women’s Equality Evelyn Gillespie said in 2001 that “pay equity for women will not be achieved without legislation,” adding that pay equity legislation had been introduced federally, in Ontario and in Quebec.

“So what is the excuse not to act? There is no excuse. It’s time to act. It’s time to correct the wrongs of the past. Just give women what belongs to them, what is rightfully theirs … We’ve got to move beyond hand-wringing about whether we can do it or how we can do it. It’s the time to do it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the fair thing to do. It is what we must do.”

As we know, the former NDP government did succeed in passing legislation to add pay equity provisions to the Human Rights Code.

During debates government members likened the passage of their 2001 bill to other historic Acts, like those that outlawed child labour and gave women the right to vote. Within months, however, it had been repealed by a new Liberal government.

Neither party has advanced the issue since, and our province remains one of a few jurisdictions in Canada without proactive pay equity legislation.

As a result, we are tied with Alberta for having the worst gender pay gap in the country.

We have paid a staggering price for government inaction.

British Columbia needs an intersectional Pay Equity Act that enshrines in law the responsibility of all employers to identify and close gaps in pay for work of equal value.

Instead, your government has committed only to introducing pay transparency legislation, arguing it will “close the gender pay gap by empowering employers and their employees with factual information about their organization’s pay gap.” While we appreciate that pay transparency plays a role in promoting equity, your legislation will take no direct action to protect and advance the right to equitable pay. Instead, it will continue to tacitly place the burden on women and other equity-deserving groups to contend with their employers for basic fairness.

You have the power to change this. Recognizing that your government is set on introducing pay transparency legislation in early 2023, we ask that you also enact intersectional pay equity legislation well before the next election. For example, we know the gap is substantial for people who are marginalized because they are Indigenous, Black, racialized, a migrant, have a disability, or because of their gender.

As a province with obligations under the federal United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and numerous Reconciliation Agreements with Indigenous nations, the wage gap between Indigenous peoples and the rest of the population represents a disparity in Canada’s legislative intent and hollow reconciliatory words versus a commitment to action.

Numerous studies have shown higher rates of unemployment among Indigenous populations, with those registered as First Nations suffering the largest wage disparity.

To achieve your goal of “closing socio-economic gaps that separate Indigenous people from other British Columbians,” your government must implement pay equity and transparency legislation and put your legislative and signed agreements into action.

Pay transparency by itself is not enough, but it is not too late for your forthcoming legislation to lay the groundwork for a robust pay equity regime. To that end, we ask that your pay transparency legislation include the following minimum elements that build toward pay equity:

1. A robust enforcement regime.

2. Transparency in all aspects of compensation.

3. Broad application across the economy.

4. A data system built to support pay equity.

5. A single interface for public access to pay data.

6. Disaggregation of data for deeper analysis.

7. Worker protections as well as transparency.

8. A new Pay Equity Office to lead implementation.

Pay transparency legislation alone will not secure the right to equal pay for work of equal value unless it is followed by a true Pay Equity Act. One discloses the issue, the other addresses it.

In signing this letter, each of us commits to building awareness among British Columbians of the history of pay equity in our province and of the aspirations of your predecessors that remain unrealized. If your government’s efforts end at pay transparency, this will be seen for what it is – a failure to meet even the bar set over two decades ago by another NDP government.

Perhaps the Honourable Joan Smallwood, Minister of Labour, said it best in 2001: “The issue of equal pay for equal value is a fundamental human right — nothing more complicated than that, simply the recognition of a fundamental human right.”

This open letter was penned by 128 organizations, including: West Coast LEAF, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office and the BC Federation of Labour

To see the full open letter and list of signatories, click here.

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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