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Labour unions launch pay equity lawsuit [CA-ON]

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Elliot, Louise
Publication Date: 
18 Apr 2001

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Five Ontario public sector unions are taking the provincial government to court for a second time over what they call its refusal to cough up equal wages for women.

While paying lip service to improving the services in female-dominated sectors such as health care, the government has flouted a 1993 "proxy" pay equity act, lawyer Mary Cornish said yesterday.

"The government itself is perpetuating this sex discrimination," she said, adding the province now owes more than $140 million in adjusted back payments to some 100,000 women.

The money is owed to employees in female-dominated workplaces whose jobs were evaluated "by proxy" with jobs in a male-dominated workplace with a similar pay grid. For example, a female child-care worker's job might be compared with a that of a male maintenance worker and her salary adjusted accordingly.

"(The government) knows how much adjustments are owing," said Cornish, who is representing the unions and four women plaintiffs. "It knows what they have to pay and what is the amount of wages that these women (are owed) . . . and they have decided not to pay it and to flout the law, and this is something that we cannot allow them to do."

Labour Minister Chris Stockwell said he wasn't familiar with the specifics of the lawsuit. "We don't know what the basis for the challenge is, we've not been alerted as to what part they're challenging, how they're challenging it, who it affects," he said.

He said his government already paid $140 million in retroactive proxy pay equity funding for 1995, 1996 and 1997 following a 1997 court ruling, and is now paying out $500 million a year for the total pay equity package for women in public sector jobs.

But Cornish said another $140 million is still owed, and the current $500 million payout will only cover the non-proxy pay equity workers.

She said another $505 million is needed to bring all female workers up to par over the next 10 years.

Five unions the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Nurses Association, the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, the Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers of America along with four women who work in the health care and education sectors launched yesterday's legal action.

Patricia Williams, an early childhood education worker in Ottawa, receives $2.60 an hour less than a male worker at a comparable level. Over the past two years, Williams has lost $11,835 because the government has not funded the equity adjustment, Cornish said. "It's sexist, essentially," she said. "(The government doesn't) respect
women's work."

Mary Kelly, a community care worker in Meaford, Ont., is losing nearly $6.80 an hour the difference between her rate and the rate of a comparable male counterpart because the government has failed to pay up, said Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"The Mike Harris government's decision to cap pay equity was made when the economy was booming," Casselman said. "They could afford tax cuts for everyone some of that money should have gone to paying people like Mary what they deserve under the law."

In 1995, the Tories eliminated the proxy pay equity law of 1993.

In 1997, the Ontario Superior Court overturned that legislation.

-Reprinted from The Toronto Star