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Walk the walk

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The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled last week the federal government was violating its own law by not paying its employees in traditionally “female” jobs equal pay for work of equal value.

For some 200,000 past and present federal employees, it means back pay—with interest—retroactive to 1985. And that could mean taxpayers will be footing a hefty bill. Though the final sum is still being tallied, it’s touted to come in at the $3 to $5-billion range.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Treasury Board have been hashing it out for years but haven’t come up with a settlement the two sides could live with. Just last year the union tossed out the fed’s $1.3-billion offer.

Treasury Board president Marcel Massé was quoted as saying he would have preferred the two sides could have negotiated settlement “because there is no absolute truth in the area.”

In fact, the tribunal’s ruling went against a recent federal court pay-equity decision involving Bell Canada and its employees.

But that’s where the problem lies. The pay-equity law must be clear, not subject to interpretation—especially when it comes down to a government’s interpretation of its own laws. For if it can’t spell out vividly what equal pay for equal-valued work means, how can the government expect the law to spill over into other workplaces?

The real issue is not the money. It’s about recognizing the value of the worker, regardless of what his or her gender may be. And it’s about being accountable to its own laws.

But instead, the federal government is wading through the 200-page decision and calculating what the final cost will be before it decides if it will file an appeal by the Aug. 28 deadline.

When it comes down to calculating that final cost, the government must examine the bigger picture. It’s fine to “talk the talk” and say it supports pay equity, but the federal government now must “walk the walk” and practice what it set in motion when it passed section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Because if the law remains subject to interpretation, then pay equity becomes nothing more than lip service.

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