Lack of action on pay equity legislation 'shocking,' critics say

·4 min read
PC Women and Gender Equality critic Helen Conway Ottenheimer said she believes the provincial government is not committed to addressing pay equity in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
PC Women and Gender Equality critic Helen Conway Ottenheimer said she believes the provincial government is not committed to addressing pay equity in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Opposition MHAs and at least one women's advocate say they're frustrated and disappointed after an access to information request revealed the Newfoundland and Labrador government's pay equity committee didn't meet for nearly three years.

According to a document obtained by CBC News, the interdepartmental committee — cited by Liberal politicians as part of the government's action on pay equity — met four times in 2018, once on June 12, 2019, and then didn't meet again until March 21, 2022.

On Tuesday, PC Women and Gender Equality critic Helen Conway Ottenheimer told reporters she was "completely floored" to learn the committee had gone so long without meeting.

"We were led to believe that the interdepartmental committee was doing work, was reviewing the research that had been done," she said. "We learned that for three years there was no meeting."

Conway Ottenheimer pointed out that March meeting occurred just six days after she asked Pam Parsons, the minister responsible for women and gender equality, if she would commit to implementing pay equity legislation during question period. Conway Ottenheimer said the lack of meetings points to a lack of action.

"I'm at the point where I want to know what kind of work you're doing. Show us. Show us the work that you are doing," she said.

Parsons told CBC News the timing of the March meeting was "absolutely not" connected with the pay equity question from the opposition.

"That's just political theatrics," she said.

Parsons, who became minister in April 2021, said work on pay equity has been "ongoing" outside committee meetings. She declined to give a timeline for implementing pay equity legislation, but said she "can't wait" for the day when that changes.

"I can't emphasize enough that it is a top priority of this premier and of this government and certainly me," she said.

Equal pay for equal value

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of just four provinces and territories across the country, and the only in Atlantic Canada, which has not implemented pay equity legislation.

In 2017, then-MHA Gerry Rogers introduced a private member's bill asking the provincial government to develop pay equity legislation, which the government unanimously supported. Though the government formed the interdepartmental committee, it has not enacted the legislation.

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

Bridget Clarke is advocacy coordinator for the St. John's Status of Women Council, one of the groups that has been calling for that legislation. She said the lack of committee meetings is "shocking" and "irresponsible."

"The more time that goes on, the more money is being held away from people who should be compensated equitably and fairly for equal value of work that they're doing," she said.

Clarke said the fact that so many other jurisdictions in Canada have implemented pay equity legislation should make the Newfoundland and Labrador government's job easier.

"There is ample opportunity for us to analyze, evaluate and replicate the kind of steps that we need to make proactive pay equity legislation the best that it can be," she said.

A silver bullet?

According to the St. John's Status of Women Council, women in Newfoundland and Labrador are paid 66 cents on the dollar. Clarke said pay equity is the principle of paying workers equal pay for work of equal value, regardless of their role.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Parsons has pointed to other initiatives, like the new wage grid for early childhood educators and $10-a-day childcare, as ways the provincial government is helping women in the workforce.

In a statement, NDP Women and Gender Equality critic Lela Evans said childcare is not a substitute for pay equity.

"Pay equity legislation needs to be in place so all women and non-binary people in this province can be paid fairly, not just those with children," she said.

Parsons has said pay equity legislation won't be the "silver bullet" which will end the gender wage gap by itself. Clarke said she agrees, but that isn't a reason for not implementing pay equity legislation.

"Our struggles are not isolated and the work toward gender and social equality must be holistic," Clarke said. "It must be wide reaching. And, ultimately, pay equity is a fundamental human right."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting