Nfld. & Labrador

Province puts $24M into pay equity

The provincial government says it has erased a black mark on its books by settling a long-standing pay equity dispute.

The provincial government says it has erased a black mark on its books by settling a long-standing pay equity dispute.

Premier Danny Williams surprised many people Thursday when he announced the province will make a voluntary payment of $24 million to settle pay equity.

The money will be paid out to nearly 20,000 employees, mostly women.

The dispute dates back to the early 1990s, when the Liberal government reneged on a pay equity agreement negotiated with thousands of public sector employees.

The Peckford government previously committed to develop a pay equity plan in the 1980s to compensate underpaid female workers in public-sector jobs.

However, the Clyde Wells government earned scorn from unions when, in 1991, it cancelled pay equity while dealing with deep budget problems.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2004 that the province did not have to pay the money because of its financial situation.

Williams said the pay equity dispute was a black mark that hung over the province for nearly 15 years.

Now, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, Carol Furlong, applauds the province's $24-million offer.

"I think that the people who are involved in this process now are going to really feel that, finally, they've been recognized and that their cause has been recognized and they've been vindicated," said Furlong.

One of those people is Donna Ryan, who travelled from her home in Corner Brook to hear the announcement.

"It's good to finally see it settled," said Ryan, a clerk at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

"I feel we should put the past behind us now and go forward into the future."

Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward said the $24 million is less than what union members deserve, but it is the best number they could hope for.

"They didn't have any legal obligation to do this, but there was certainly a moral obligation," said Forward.

"They fulfilled that today, so it's a good day for women in this province."

It is now up to five different unions to distribute the money and, although they do not know how much each person will receive, they say the hard part is over.

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