Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pay equity legislation in Alberta?

A new group (sponsored by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) advocating pay equity legislation in Alberta popped up on my facebook feed this weekend. Pay equity is generally taken to mean paying male and female workers the same wage for work of equal value.

One of the more interesting discussions around pay equity is what work is typically considered equal. For example, is extractive work in the resource industry (e.g., logging, mining, roughnecking) more inherently valuable than work in social reproductive industries (e.g., child care, cleaning, cooking, nursing)?

Certainly the former tend to be paid more than the latter. But that does not mean they are inherently of greater value. Rather, this pay difference reflects that occupational value is a social construction and, historically, work typically performed by women has been constructed as less valuable than work typically performed by men.

The result of this has been a persistent wage-gap, wherein women tend to be paid less than men, even in similar jobs. A Parkland Institute study this spring found women in Alberta earn about 63% of men in similar jobs. And, when you stop controlling for the type of job held, women earn about 56% of what men do. A knock-on effect of this wage gap is that women are more likely to be low-wage workers and live in poverty.

Like all Canadian jurisdictions, Alberta implicitly requires pay equality (i.e., men and women must be paid the same if performing the same job in the same organization) under its Human Rights Code. This reflects that gender discrimination is prohibited. It is unclear whether (1) employers meaningfully comply with this requirement and (2) any women seek remediation for pay inequality under the Human Rights Code (because such complaints are risky and take years to resolve).

Alberta has no explicit provisions or efforts to address pay equity (which operates at the level of occupational groups, not individuals). Enacting pay equity provisions would give women in occupational groups that face systemic gender discrimination a pathway to remedy that discrimination. Depending upon the manner in which pay equity is enacted, it might also place some obligations on employers to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the legislation.

There is an online petition (that emails MLAs) as well as an interactive pay equity quiz that is worth checking out at the link above.

-- Bob Barnetson

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