In a stunning reversal that has sparked both anger and disappointment in BCs labour and womens movements, the government of new BC Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has abandoned its commitment to introduce a binding pay equity law in this sitting of the legislature.
Laws have been passed in most other provinces to enforce equal pay for work of equal value. While BCs government has provided pay equity funding for public employees in several sectors, a pay equity law would require all employers public and private sector, union and non-union to pay women and men fairly.
CUPE 403 president Joanne Reece, who chairs CUPE BCs Pay Equity Committee, says CUPE has been leading the charge on the issue for years. Even before the NDP came to government in 1991, CUPE BC was working on this issue, says Reece.
A pay equity law was a major plank of the NDPs 1991 election platform. Time after time sometimes even on our convention floor CUPE BC members were promised by premiers, ministers of finance, ministers of womens equality and countless other cabinet and caucus members that a law would be introduced. Nine years later, were still waiting.
Heather Inglis, a member of CUPE 391 and a longtime activist on the issue, says that legislation was even drafted under former Premier Mike Harcourt in the early 1990s. The government had a law written and ready to introduce, but at the last moment under pressure from the business community they lost their nerve.
Ever since, weve been running an aggressive campaign Pay Equity: There Ought To Be A Law to change their minds. Weve really put the spotlight on the issue within our own membership, within the labour movement, and among the broader community. We even
created a pay equity computer screensaver, just to get our message out into peoples homes and workplaces. (The screensaver is available free from CUPE BCs web site at http://www.cupe. bc.ca/screensaver.html).
After all that work, pay equity activists finally thought they had something to celebrate this spring. Only weeks ago, Premier Dosanjh assured CUPE BC and BC Fed representatives that a pay equity law was high on his agenda.
Dosanjh had been supportive of CUPEs campaign in the past (even helping hand out pay equity balloons at Labour Day picnic) and his first throne speech included strong references to a womens economic agenda.
Yet a week into the session, the call came from Victoria the bill wouldnt be introduced and women across the province got the message loud and clear: if they wanted fair pay for the work they do, theyd have to keep up the pressure.
Colleen Jordan, CUPE BCs secretary-
treasurer, says pay equity is the issue that persuaded her to get involved in her own CUPE local more than two decades ago. Ive been fighting on this issue for more than twenty years, says Jordan, and Im not about to give up now!