TORONTO About 100,000 women in predominately female, public sector workplaces across Ontario will receive up to $414 million in pay equity funding from the Ontario Government as the result of a settlement of an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Charter application brought by five unions and four individual women.
These landmark settlement funds mean that low-paid public sector women denied their pay equity adjustments because of discriminatory government funding practices will now finally start to receive the equitable wages required by the Pay Equity Act, said Mary Cornish, lawyer for the Applicants in the CUPE et al v. Attorney-General (Ont) et al case.
The Applicant Unions are the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Nurses Association, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Service Employees International Union, and the United Steelworkers of America. The individual applicants are a registered nurse, a health care aide, a child care worker and a developmental services worker. The unions represent more than 44,000 workers in over 2,300 public sector workplaces, including nursing homes, child care centres, developmental services agencies, shelters, home care and other community agencies.
This is a tremendously exciting victory for women and their unions who have been fighting the Ontario government to make sure all women are paid wages that recognize the true value of their work, said Judy Darcy, National President of CUPE. The settlement covers both unionized and non-unionized workers in the proxy sector – predominantly female workplaces where there are no male job classes to compare for pay equity purposes. The Government agreed to pay the Applicants their reasonable legal costs in bringing the Charter proceeding.
The Applicants claimed that the Ontario government was knowingly perpetuating sex discrimination contrary to the Charter’s section 15 by failing to provide the necessary pay equity funding in this sector. In September, 1997, in a previous Charter challenge, Ontario Superior Court Justice O’Leary found that the government’s 1995 repeal of these same women’s proxy pay equity entitlements was unconstitutional. Justice O’Leary, in upholding the challenge brought by the SEIU also found that these women’s public sector employers would go bankrupt without the necessary pay equity funding.
Contrary to this ruling, the Government decided in 1998 to end proxy pay equity funding after paying out $250 million in adjustments owing up to that date. The government knew this payment only brought these low-paid women’s wages to one- third of the pay equity amount they were entitled to. It declared anyway that proxy pay equity funding was now the responsibility of employers, not the government, causing hardship to many women in the proxy sector who were deprived of the financial monies they were owed over many years. Other public sector women had received public pay equity funding until their wages were fully adjusted to eliminate discriminatory pay gaps. Ontario women were forced to use the Courts to challenge the Government’s decision to end pay equity funding by bringing the second Charter application challenge in April, 2001. Finally, after two years of court proceedings, this application was successfully settled through a mediation process facilitated by the skilful efforts of Mediator Gerry Lee.
This has been a long, slow and grinding fight for justice said Leah Casselman, OPSEU President. The payouts that will soon go to a huge number of underpaid workers, most of them women, make the fight worth while. The shame is that the government dragged its heels for so long and only settled in the face of a provincial election.
Women workers should never have been forced to litigate their lawful rights to pay equity, said Barb Wahl, President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. It took our Court action to get the necessary funding so that women will finally get paid what’s been owed while maintaining critical community services for some of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens.
Under the settlement agreement, enhanced accountability mechanisms apply to the Government and proxy employers to make sure that employers comply with their pay equity obligations and that the funding required for any such adjustments is properly reflected in budget requests. Estimates are that, on average, the women in this sector will achieve their full pay equity rate by 2011 through the phase-in of adjustments at 1% of payroll per year.
Our fight for justice for women workers is not over. This settlement funding covers the next three-year period, but we will fight on to make sure that our members and other public sector women continue to receive their required annual pay equity adjustments until pay equity is achieved, said Sharleen Stewart, International Canadian Vice-President of SEIU. The Government will provide a yearly report to the Applicant Unions on the funding disbursed under this agreement, under the terms of the settlement.
“This is a great victory for all women in the Province of Ontario. This settlement forces the Government to recognize that pay equity is a right and not discretionary. Ensuring that women are paid equally for the work they do is a fundamental right and one which this Government must fund accordingly,” said Wayne Fraser, Director of District 6, USWA.
For further information contact:
Mary Cornish, Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish - 416-964-5524
Pat Daley, CUPE Communications - (w) 416-292-3999 ext 222 - (c) 416-616-6142
Peter D. Birt, ONA Communications - Cell (416) 986-8240
Katie FitzRandolph, Communications Officer OPSEU - (w) 416-448-7440 - (c) 416-788-9057
Lynn Simmons, SEIU CANADA Communications Coordinator - 416-931-4217
Pat Van Horne, United Steelworkers of America - 416-544-5990 Tel. - 416-487-9852