Thomas to Wynne: Enforce and fund pay equity now
Publication DateThursday, February 16, 2017 - 11:30am
The letter below was sent by OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas to Premier Kathleen Wynne. In it, the President urges the Premier to start funding pay equity in developmental services.
February 16, 2017
Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Re: Your duty to enforce pay equity in the developmental services sector
Dear Premier Wynne:
I’m writing this letter because I think it is high time for you to take a direct, personal interest in enforcing pay equity in Ontario.
Pay equity was made law in the late 1980s, and yet, to this day, it is still not a reality for thousands of working women in Ontario. In the early 1990s, the province took the additional and progressive step, with the proxy comparison method, to ensure access to pay equity for the most vulnerable women working in female-dominated workplaces. A number of these workers are in the developmental services sector. They are doing what has been known as care work, historically labelled “women’s work.” This work has long been undervalued and underpaid, specifically because it is gendered. That is why special provisions exist in the Pay Equity Act to protect these women.
OPSEU members in developmental services have been fighting to achieve pay equity for decades, but employers continue to evade their legal obligation to pay.
As the bargaining agent for many developmental service workers being denied what is rightfully theirs, my union may have no choice but to enforce pay equity through the courts. Community Living Tillsonburg (CLT) is a good example.
CLT last made pay equity payments in 2010, and they now owe a total of more than $784,000, plus interest. Their failure to comply with pay equity law is impacting 232 past and present workers. This is against the law.
The Pay Equity Office ordered CLT to pay the monies owed under the Pay Equity Act. When CLT failed to pay, the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal upheld the order, and a payment plan was agreed to by the employer, the Office, and the Union. This payment plan was to be implemented within 60 days of the Tribunal’s decision. One day after the 60-day deadline of January 23, 2017, the CEO of CLT said outright that he would not be paying.
Why are we still fighting for pay equity, nearly 30 years after it became law? For far too long, pay equity has been treated as optional rather than the human right it is.
We know that responsibility falls on employers to meet pay equity obligations, and we are prepared to take all noncompliant employers to court if necessary. However, there is a massive elephant in the room, and it needs addressing. It is no secret that many agencies in the developmental services sector are sorely underfunded and have been for quite some time. There is a real crisis in this sector. This is where you need to step in.
The Pay Equity Act, on its own, is not making equal pay for work of equal value a reality for the most vulnerable women workers in this province. It needs to be supported by funding. You fund the agencies; you must fund pay equity.
In your 2016 mandate letters, you clearly stated that closing the gender wage gap was a key priority. You also initiated the Gender Wage Gap Review to investigate ways of closing Ontario’s vast wage gap between men and women.
Frankly, we did not need the Gender Wage Gap Review to know what needs to be done, but you asked for it, and it told you very clearly: pay equity, especially pay equity in the broader public sector, needs to be enforced now, and it is your job to see to it.
I and my union urge you to take three simple steps now; it's not complicated:
- Immediately start funding pay equity in the developmental service sector and other proxy agencies. That will be a significant first step toward closing the wage gap in Ontario;
- Ensure that agencies do not lay off any OPSEU members to pay for their legal pay equity obligations;
- Mandate that all agencies in the Broader Public Sector that use the proxy comparison method make public their financial plans to achieve and maintain pay equity to close the gender pay gap.
I urge you to stand up for women’s fundamental human right to equal pay for work of equal value.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
c: OPSEU Executive Board
OPSEU Sector 2, Developmental Services, executive members
Patrick Brown, Leader, Progressive Conservative Party
Andrea Horwath, Leader, New Democratic Party
Hon. Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services
Hon. Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Hon. Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues
Hon. Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance
Hon. Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Growth
Hon. Mitzie Hunter, Minister of Education
Hon. Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour
Hon. Liz Sandals, President of the Treasury Board