Gallant promises to legislate pay equity in private sector

Liberal Party Leader Brian Gallant is doubling up on a pay equity promise he’s previously broken.

As premier, Brian Gallant broke a less extensive pay equity promise made in 2014

Johanne Perron of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity said implementing pay equity plans even in the public sector has been going too slowly. (Vincent Lehoullier/Radio-Canada)

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is doubling down on a pay equity promise he's previously broken.

During the last election, Gallant promised that all big companies that do business with the government would have to implement pay equity, which means women and men doing different jobs would get equal pay for work of equal value.

The promise didn't work out as planned.

But campaigning for re-election on Wednesday, Gallant made a bigger promise, including expanding the Pay Equity Act to include municipalities and the "quasi-public sector," such as universities and nursing homes by 2020.

He also pledged to include private-sector businesses with more than 50 employees in this legislation by 2022.

Earlier promise softened

In May, the Liberal government "quietly" narrowed the scope to only include companies getting contracts worth more than $1 million or requesting money from one particular government fund, Beth Lyons of the New Brunswick Women's Council, said Wednesday.

And those companies only had to have training or make a plan, not necessarily implement it. 

"It doesn't meet the full scope of the commitment that they made in 2014," Lyons said. "It could be considered baby steps for what they had committed to."

Before beginning his 2018 campaign, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said a previous program aimed at forcing companies with 50 or more employees awarded a tender or receiving a government subsidy to implement a pay equity plan hasn't been 'as successful as we’d like.' (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The Green Party and New Democratic Party leaders have also promised pay equity requirements for the private sector during this election campaign.

The NDP's Jennifer McKenzie said she will put her focus on pay inequity in the health-care sector.

"Liberals admitted that they did not keep their promise to implement pay equity," she said in a statement. "This is what this government has done time and time again, they have let all workers, but especially women, down."

The People's Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties do not mention pay equity anywhere in their platforms.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs was not available for an interview Wednesday afternoon.

No protection for private sector

Johanne Perron, executive director of New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, said her organization has been pushing for years to have the private sector included in pay equity legislation.

"We were really worried that the private sector wasn't protected," she said. "With this announcement we have hopes that whoever forms the next government will take that into account."

The process of identifying which jobs need to be reviewing, and the review process itself can be time-consuming.

"With legislation, employers have to look at jobs mostly done by women, and jobs mostly done by men, make sure they have a good job description," she said.

"Then evaluate the jobs based on responsibility, qualification, working conditions and effort. If the jobs come up with the same value, then they have to bring the wages of the jobs mostly done by women on par with the male jobs."

Since the Pay Equity Act of 2009 was instituted within the public sector, some areas have seen $5-an-hour increases in pay. However, she said, increases have been spread out over almost 10 years, which is "way too much" time.

For example, it took the education sector — the government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees — five years to identify and agree to a pay adjustment.

Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council, said she can't comment on whether Gallant will keep his pay equity promise if re-elected. She said she only knows that he didn't keep the last one. (CBC)

According to a CUPE report on the topic, it will take 10 years to make adjustments to female-dominated jobs such as education assistant, students attendant and school intervention worker.  

These jobs were weighted against physical education jobs, which were male-dominated, comparable in value, and paid more than $10-an-hour more in some cases.

Not groundbreaking

Perron said if Gallant gets elected and goes through with this promise, New Brunswick will be the third province to legislate pay equity for the private sector.

But that still would not be groundbreaking, because Quebec and Ontario's legislation includes companies with 10 employees or more and not 50.

"[Legislation] was a missing piece for equality between women and men, so that's really good news, because we know that women tend to go in certain types of jobs whether it's because of socialization or because of personal choice, doesn't matter," Perron said.

"Those jobs are important for the economy and they should be paid fairly when you compare them with the jobs that are mostly done by men."

Lyons said she cannot predict whether Gallant will stick to this promise, only that he didn't stick to the last one.

Pay equity in municipalities

If the legislation is extended to municipalities and the private sector, the onus will be on employers to determine the criteria within 12 months. Then they will have 24 months to make sure pay equity is implemented.

Bev Gaston, president of the Union of Municipalities in New Brunswick which represents 60 municipalities, said the organization is all for pay equity, but he's concerned about the cost and whether the province will provide funding for the changeover.

"In a lot of cases we're doing it anyway," he said. "We want more information as far as how do we implement it, especially in small municipalities when we don't have human resources."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton and Moncton. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca