Budget to cost pay equity in public sector and federally regulated jobs: source

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government’s upcoming budget will account for the costs of pursuing gender equality when it comes to workers’ pay in both the federal public service and all federally regulated workplaces, The Canadian Press has learned.

A senior government official says Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget will start laying the foundation for Ottawa to deliver on some long-awaited goals towards achieving proactive pay equity in Canada.

While it’s not clear how much the measures will cost, the price tag on closing the gender wage gap in such workplaces will likely be significant, since the public service and federally regulated organizations together employ nearly 1.2 million people — more than six per cent of all workers in Canada.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity about details not yet made public, declined to provide numbers on how much room would be made in the budget — but said it would be a range to allow Ottawa to negotiate pay equity through various rounds of collective bargaining with unions.

The source also said the pay equity specifics would be released at a later date in proposed legislation, and not in the budget.

The government is looking to improve the existing pay equity system by making it proactive, rather than sticking with the current complaints-based system.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that his government would introduce legislation this year to ensure equal pay for work of equal value in federal jobs.

Trudeau described pay equity as merely a first step toward encouraging more women to enter the workforce. Equal pay doesn’t mean equal opportunity, or equal treatment, or equal sacrifice, he said — rather, women continue to face many barriers in the workplace.

Canada has long struggled to address the wage gap. A recently released briefing note to Finance Minister Bill Morneau laid out just how poorly Canadian women have fared compared to their peers in other parts of the industrialized world.

The document, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, said when it comes to the wage gap, Canada ranked among the bottom five countries in the OECD. The divide had failed to narrow despite the fact women are increasingly more educated, the memo said.

“Closing the gender earnings gap … is crucial to achieving an inclusive society and a sustaining economy,” the note said.

Statistics Canada released numbers last year showing women on average earned 87 cents for every dollar made by a man.

The Liberal government has signalled that next Tuesday’s budget will include initiatives to promote gender equality, improve the economic success of women, ensure more gender equality in boardrooms and ease access to capital for female entrepreneurs.

Morneau’s budget will also be the first to scrutinize all its commitments through a gender-equality microscope.

The Canadian Labour Congress is one of many groups that have been pushing the federal government to address the pay equity issue.

“There seems to be a sincere commitment to do that and I’m hoping they would certainly take the steps in the budget,” said Hassan Yussuff, the organization’s president.

Yussuff said Ottawa will likely choose between the provincial pay equity models in Quebec and Ontario — or create a hybrid of the two.

At the federal level, he argued that the system in place right now doesn’t work. He called it too litigious, too time consuming and, more importantly, unfair because it forces women to go through an onerous process to achieve something that men don’t have to fight for.

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