Thursday, February 12, 2009

A din of inequity

The Cons are pressing ahead to make it illegal for federal public service unions to bring pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. As reported in today's Globe, there is no indication this will save any money: rather, it's clear that this move is based upon ideological opposition to the very notion of pay equity.

The issue is, instead, supposed to be brought to the bargaining table. And therein lie several problems.

First, the notion of bargaining a right is, or should be, repugnant to Canadians. Pay equity means that women and men are rewarded equally for work of equal value. Wage discrimination against women in an affront: but Harper's crew want to dicker about it. That's a bit like putting women's right to vote on the table: what, every election? Why not every second one? After reaching the age of 30?

Secondly, current legislation does not permit classification grievances: classification is the prerogative of the employer. But that's precisely what's caused all the problems in the past: federal public service classification schemes have been laden with implicit sexist value-judgments. It took a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts to blast their way through that thicket. Currently, classification grievances only go through an administrative process in which the employer has the last word. There is no third-party adjudication.

Finally, this is placing federal public service unions in an impossible position. Unions are to be made equally responsible with employers in achieving pay equity at the bargaining table. But, as we all know, the two parties are not on a level playing field. One party can, if arduous conditions are met, go out on strike--assuming that pay equity is a strikeable issue among the membership. The other can bring far more pressure to bear, up to and including back-to-work legislation. Yet, if an individual decides to bring a successful complaint of her own outside the collective bargaining process--a complaint that unions are to be prevented from backing--the union could be held jointly liable.

To add insult to injury, Treasury Board chief Victor Toews is weeping crocodile tears at the moment about the costs and delays inherent in the current process. Those costs and delays, of course, have arisen precisely because Treasury Board, under both Conservative and Liberal administrations, has traditionally fought pay equity complaints every step of the way, spending millions of the taxpayers' money to do so.

On top of that little bit of hypocrisy, the Conservatives are extolling the efficacy of collective bargaining
just as they are presently engaged in rolling back signed collective agreements.

No word as yet from Ignatieff's Liberals.

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