In an effort to end alleged wage discrimination, the Ontario government will compensate more than 30,000 of its female employees to the tune of nearly $97 million over the next three years. This amounts to 2.5 per cent of the province’s payroll, said Nancy Robinson of the Human Resources Secretariat.
Female clerks, cleaners and health care workers, to name just some job categories, will receive wage increases ranging from a few cents to $7 an hour.
To comply with its own Pay Equity Act, passed in 1987, the Liberal government of Premier David Peterson began negotiations with the Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) two years ago. Jim Clancy, OPSEU president, hailed the settlement announced March 1, as a “historic day for thousands of women workers in Ontario.”
For a society proud of being fair-minded and egalitarian the phrase ‘pay equity’ is a stroke of genius. Who could object to employers being obliged to pay a just wage to their employees – male and female alike?
But pay equity is not about equal pay for the same job. It begins with the feminist idea that in a male-dominated society, women’s work has inferior value and, therefore, has a lower wage simply because it is done by women.
Righting this perceived wrong occupied a central place in the feminist agenda during the 1980s. By the end of the decade, a number of jurisdictions in North America – Quebec and Ontario among them – had enacted pay equity laws.
Briefly, pay equitists believe that no amount of tinkering with the free market will uproot what they call ‘systemic discrimination’ against women. Their solution? Forget about the job marketplace where innumerable, mostly informal negotiations take place between employer and employee.
Instead, in jurisdictions where pay equity has been enacted, Ontario included, government has set up a new bureaucracy of job evaluators. They assess the relative worth of categories of jobs in which either men or women predominate according to four criteria: knowledge and skills; effort; responsibility; and working conditions. Once the comparison is made, government boosts the allegedly inadequate wages of the workers in the job category which has been assigned a higher relative worth.
For example, using this method, Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission – established by provincial law in 1987 – equated a secretary’s job with that of a construction technician. The wage gap of $1.32 per hour between the two unrelated kinds of work the government closed by awarding an across-the-board pay raise to government secretaries and clerks regardless of their current wage.
Beneath the appearance of justice for female workers, an economic, and revolution is taking place. Ontario’s pay equity bureaucracy is usurping the operation of market forces, curtailing economic freedom, and amassing a vast amount of information on companies and individuals in order to make comparisons among thousands of job categories.
No matter how scientific the exercise may appear, pay equity is necessarily subjective. In the words of Prof. Christopher D. Gerrard, head of the Economics department at the University of Saskatchewan, pay equity schemes, Ontario’s included, are “essentially a matter of opinion.” That opinion, now enshrined in law, is the feminist belief that because society grossly undervalues the work women do, and therefore the women themselves, society itself must be transformed. Under the guise of fairness to women, therefore, Ontario is rapidly introducing “a tightly controlled and planned society in which no one can prosper,” says feminist and Toronto Star columnist, Laura Sabia.
These are not groundless fears. Even several months before the Ontario government completed the first stage of pay equity coverage for female workers, Brigid O’Reilly, head of the Pay Equity Commission, was promising strong-arm-tactics: “Organizations that don’t meet the deadline run the risk of intervention from the Pay Equity Commission,” she told the Toronto Star in October 1989.
Some of the forecasts made by the adversaries of pay equity in Ontario are already bearing their bitter fruit. As government undertakes a full-scale ideological settlement of wages outside the impersonal mechanisms of the market, different groups have begun to lobby the government to have it exercise this coercive power on their behalf. These efforts are costly. For the most part, only wealthy and influential organizations of above-average educated women can proceed with them.
At present, the complex legal negotiations involving unions of professional employees such as teachers and nurses are costing millions of dollars for lawyers, consultants, support staff and expert witnesses. For example, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), representing about 40,000 hospital nurses and the Ontario Hospital Association, speaking on behalf of the province’s 222 publicly financed hospitals, are at odds on how to evaluate the work done by nurses and other hospital staff. Both groups will be locked in a legal squabble well into the summer. When the Pay Equity Commission reaches its decision, it will certainly be appealed to the courts. Beyond this, years of adversarial battles – and fat lawyers’ fees – loom, with the final settlement having a major impact on the cost of pay equity.
Redistribution of Income
Such lobbying is not productive activity, states economist Gerrard, Ontario’s existing wealth is simply being re-distributed to maintain both the awards and the administration of pay equity. With less overall wealth, institutions will be increasingly hard put to meet their operating costs.
Teaching assistants, secretaries and clerks for the Metro Separate (Catholic) School Board (MSSB) received pay equity raises totaling $3 million a year in a settlement announced at the end of February this year. Jan Rowan, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 1328, professed satisfaction with the deal, but the board itself is alarmed. Officials said that they simply don’t have the money to cover the increase, and an agreement with 7,000 elementary and secondary school teachers is still pending.
Other school boards across the province, as well as municipalities and hospital boards are lobbying for financial help or threatening huge increases in property taxes to cover the cost of pay equity.
“The lunatics are taking over the asylum with the help of Premier David Peterson’s great equalizer and a brand-new bureaucracy that makes business and industry cringe,” writes columnist Michael Bennett in the Toronto Sun of March 23, 1990. Economy is impossible in the land of pay equity, Mr. Bennett observes. Judith Andrew, national policy director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, backs him up. Small businesses, the backbone of a free market economy, are especially vulnerable to this latest act of statist coercion. “They have no expertise in job evaluation,” says Ms. Andrew. “If there’s a complaint, they have to agree to the (salary) adjustment or go to court.” But how easily can a small company bear the estimated cost of $50,000 for disputing one award before the Pay Equity Commission? Ontario’s universities are disturbed by the increased payrolls that pay equity settlements entail. Over the next two years, wage increases granted to 2,500 employees of the University of Toronto will increase the annual payroll by 2 per cent. In an era of tight budgets and chronic under-funding the money “is a very serious amount” for the university, said Laleah Macintosh, director of compensation. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where salaries must be boosted by $1.2 million, compensation manager Margaret Gow complains: “We’re not sure where we’re going to get [the money] but the legislation says we have to pay it, so we’ll be paying it.”
Early in March, to cries of ‘disappointing and ‘inadequate’ from labour and women’s groups, Labour Minister Gerry Phillips announced forthcoming amendments to the Pay Equity Act. These will cover an additional 245,000 women, Mr. Phillips explained.
Business spokesmen immediately expressed their disapproval – and with good reason. They calculate that pay equity agreements add, on the average, 3 to 4 per cent to public payrolls and about 2 per cent to private ones. This rise, moreover, does not reflect the hidden ‘bureaucratic’ cost. “It is often as high as the added wages. Anything making it more costly to do business in Ontario is something we’d not favor,” said Doug Gray of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
Linked with an expensive Canadian dollar, stratospheric interest rates and the gathering flight of manufacturing industries to the U.S. the widening application of pay equity rules seriously imperils the continued health of the free market in Ontario.
Since the provincial Labor Minister unveiled his plans for pay equity in the 1990s, nearly 30 organizations have responded in writing to the proposals, but none has been so critical as the Metro Toronto Board of Trade’s. The body, representing some 16,000 mostly small and medium-sized Toronto area businesses, says the proposed amendments “are tantamount to economic suicide” and will restrict the province’s ability to compete in what is quickly becoming an economically unified world.
The Board of Trade’s brief, submitted in early May, urges the Peterson government to re-examine not only the amendments, but the whole concept of pay equity. “The government itself cannot begin to estimate or quantify, let alone estimate the cost impact of the proposals in our economy,” the brief states.
Mr. Phillips accompanies his March statement with a discussion paper outlining plans to legislate a broadened definition of employer. It comes straight from the quasi-judicial Pay Equity Commission, directed by Ms. Brigid O’Reilly, who has said that “pay equity” is not just about money. It is also about determining the true value of women’s work.” Profoundly mistrustful of business, but touchingly naïve about the power of the state to distort the traditional relationships of a free market, the Pay Equity Commission wants to change the meaning of employer in order to multiply the comparisons which can be made between male and female jobs. Large companies will be particularly hard hit if the Pay Equity Commission’s redefinition of employer is enacted into law.
Unfairness of the OPP
Sources within the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), a branch of the Ministry of the Solicitor-General, provided The Interim with information which illustrates the unfairness of the Pay Equity Commission’s job evaluations.
Two categories of workers clean and maintain all the buildings operated by the OPP. Employees in the first job category of Building Caretakers 1 and 2 work for the most part in OPP detachments in numerous smaller centers throughout the province. According to statistics assembled by the Pay equity Commission, this category is male-dominated. Employees in the second job category of Building Cleaners a and 2 are concentrated in OPP buildings in Toronto. Again, according to the Pay Equity Commission, this category is female-dominated. The kind of work each job category does is basically similar, yet employees in the second category received an upward adjustment to their salaries, while those in the first category – received nothing.
Aside from its patent inequity, jobholders in the male dominated category may have to endure a more serious social penalty form this and future settlements like it. Sooner or later, they may find it impossible to support a wife and family.
When a settlement like this is multiplied thousands of times, universal pay equity in Ontario will cause large numbers of women who would prefer to remain at home to enter the labor force out of economic constraint.
The outcome however, fully accords with the feminist belief that to achieve full equality and to eradicate discrimination, women ought to participate in the work force as much as men. Only child rearing stands in the say of the realization of this ideal of economic independence and power. As Nancy Randolph Pearcey wrote in the October 1986 issue of The Interim. “The feminists real argument is not against employer discrimination, it is against biology.” But to et around the motherhood obstacle, dependency on husbands and fathers has to be exchanged for dependency on the State.
The example of Sweden perfectly illustrates the trend in Ontario. As late as 1965, only 25 per cent of Swedish mothers with children under seven were working outside the home. But Sweden in the 1960’s undertook its great socialist experiments. One of these was pay equity. Under the impact of this and other legislation, that percentage has now risen to fully three quarters; it has become virtually impossible for Swedish workingmen to raise a family on a single income.
“Ontario has the most progressive pay equity legislation in the world,” said Labor minister Gerry Philllips in March of this year. Yet, as the province rushes to embrace universal pay equity, it faces an increasingly impoverished and sterile future. More and more families will find that the only alternative to the prohibitive cost of raising children at home is day care.
As government assumes both the functions of the free market and of the independent family, it grows correspondingly in power; individual freedoms, however, diminish. It is ironic that just as the long night of statism is coming to an end for the nations of Eastern Europe, for Ontario, under the banner of fairness and justice, it is just beginning.