Feature

Advocate Says Pay Equity Should be Legislated for the Private Sector

Woman at whiteboard
Image: flickr user wocintechchat

New Brunswick is working towards pay equity in the public sector with legislation it has in place. A pay equity advocate thinks it’s now time to do the same for the private sector.

Last month, the government of New Brunswick announced its intentions to implement pay equity adjustments for employees in three groups represented by the New Brunswick Union: professional support workers in schools, specialized health care professionals and medical science professionals.

According to the Pay Equity Act passed in 2009, public service employers with 10 or more employees must take action to implement pay equity. This sort of action would mean preventing differences in pay between female-dominated and male-dominated positions by evaluating the value of positions and adjusting pay based on results.

Last month’s announcement is one step of many in the direction of fully implementing the Pay Equity Act in the public sector.

Johanne Perron, executive director of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, says pay equity legislation for the public sector is a good step forward, but that the coalition is working towards legislation that is adequate for both the public and private sectors, something she believes is inevitable since it’s already happened in provinces like Ontario and Quebec.

“Often we’ve seen that jobs that are mostly done by women or traditionally done by women are undervalued and underpaid,” she says.

“What we are asking for is legislation that would require all employers to do job evaluations and compare the jobs that are mostly done by women with the jobs that are mostly done by men and if the value is the same, they adjust the wages.”

Perron emphasizes that pay equity should not be confused with pay parity, which involves paying men and women the equivalent amount for the same job, and presents two examples to show the need for pay equity across different positions.

“One would be the assistant accountant in a car dealership,” she says. “That’s usually a female job and the car salesman in the dealership, in that same dealership. What has been found in other jurisdictions is that they would have the same value. You would adjust that.”

“Another example might be the secretary in an institution compared to a sound technician working in the same institution. If the value is the same, they should be paid the same.”

Perron says they’re now seeing the importance of pay equity adjustments as government departments continue to implement them. She adds that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes too important to be ignored in the private sector.

Provincial government currently won’t commit to legislation for the private sector

Huddle contacted the provincial government for an interview on pay equity in the private sector. In an e-mail, Stéphanie Bilodeau, director of communications for the Treasury Board, said they’re not in a position to do an interview about pay equity legislation for private businesses. But she said the government believes wages should reflect the value of the job regardless of whether it is filled by a male or female, and is committed to examining ways to further the adoption of pay equity by the private sector.

“It is at the discretion of employers in the private sector to pay their employees fair wages,” she said.

“We believe that employer-focused promotion and awareness is key to creating a culture shift in how private sector employers value the work that has been traditionally performed by women. The government will be working with private sector employers to that effect.”

Rachelle Gagnon, vice-president of administration and customer experience and former director of human resources at Assumption Life, says the issue is a complicated one in the private sector. She says while many bigger companies can and do implement job classification systems to evaluate the value of positions, it’s more difficult for smaller companies with fewer resources.

“I think it’s very difficult to implement because I don’t think we’ve had a whole lot of realistic plans in terms of doing it for the private sector,” Gagnon says.

“If you’re a company with 500 employees, you probably have a couple people in HR,” she says. “But if you’re a 20-person business, chances are you don’t have anybody in HR… To do pay equity policy implementation… and not necessarily just to say, ‘okay we’re an equitable employer,’ but to really ensure objective analysis and comparables on a regular basis. It depends on how specific they want to get into and what would be the expectation to be compliant.”

Gagnon says bigger companies are moving towards implementing job-classification systems for a variety of factors in addition to those that are gender specific and that information on salary scales at particular companies are becoming more open to the public.

She adds that often the gap in wages between employees can be explained by seniority or performance.

“We see all the studies that there’s still a gap there,” she says. “Personally, I think there are different ways to explain that gap. I don’t think it’s anything that’s systematic. I think it’s a variety of factors. It’s not that employers are actively and consciously doing this. I don’t think that’s the case.”

“I haven’t come across a whole lot of organizations that consciously say, ‘for us, we systematically do it and that’s okay.’ I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think because everything is becoming much more transparent and … I think it forces employers to be up to date and objective within their pay scales.”

Perron says there has been pushback from private sector businesses against implementing pay equity practices but that there is less resistance than there used to be.

“I think the employers recognize the benefits of pay equity and having legislation would just make it a level playing ground for everybody,” Perron says. “It’s important to have that legislation, but I think employers recognize that if they want to attract and retain workers that are competent to do the jobs, they need to invest and make sure there’s no pay discrimination.”

“When you do those pay equity job evaluations, you often get a more modern pay system that makes sense. You compensate the workers for education and qualifications, for responsibilities, working conditions, efforts. It makes it fair for everybody.”

Perron says while implementing pay equity practices does take time and investment on the part of businesses, it’s beneficial to both employees and employers in the long run. She says pay equity results in workers being satisfied in their work environment because they know they’re being valued and paid for the value of their work.

For the coalition, working towards pay equity means educating the public about the issue and participating in government consultations. Perron says they’re working now to convince every political party to include pay equity legislation in their platform for the next election.

“Really it’s a social issue and it’s also a human rights issue,” she says. “It shouldn’t even be a discussion.”