The Effects of Restructuring on Pay Equity

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Since the 1970s there have been an increasing number of women entering the public sector. This has meant that the government has had to respond to growing female concerns about their position in the civil service. However, the participation of women has not always resulted in equal treatment. Many complaints raised by women's group's concern wage differentials between males and females. The concern is that women are making less than men for work which is equal in value.

Since the 1980s provincial governments have taken action to reduce this disparity with strategies like "equal pay for work of equal value." In Ontario the NDP government introduced the Ontario Pay Equity Act in 1987, which applied to public and private sector workers. This strategy compares the value of conventional women's work to conventional men's work . The objective is that if women's work is comparable, then it should be of equal pay. Gains have been made by female public sector workers as a result of "equal pay for work of equal value". This has not come easily as many pay equity disputes were fought in courts. At other times, pay equity has actually increased the difference among women's workers. It has sometimes left several women benefiting more than others. Although the intent of the legislation was praised, it became increasingly difficult to implement during changing political and economic times. The election of the Harris government would dramatically amend the Ontario Pay Equity Act of 1987. His Conservative government would focus on restructuring the public sector during his ‘Common Sense Revolution' . This paper will focus on the period which the Ontario Pay Equity Act was implemented. This will be followed by the dismantling of the Act by during the 1990s. I will argue that the restructuring of the healthcare sector has had a negative impact on pay equity initiatives in Ontario. This has effectively delayed the implementation of pay equity initiatives for healthcare workers . The implications of restructuring will be analyzed with several recommendations for the future. A case study of Ontario healthcare workers will be used to support this position. The healthcare sector suffered substantial cuts during this restructuring process. This has had the effect of limiting pay equity complaints from nurses. When complaints have been successful they have had to endure extensive litigation. Further, this case study will help to provide a model of what pay equity has meant for public sector workers in Ontario. First, I will look at the historical development of pay equity in Ontario. This will include political and economic factors leading to the adoption of the Ontario Pay Equity Act. This will help in assessing how pay equity was being delivered by the government up until the 1980s. This paper will also emphasize the effect of union participation on achieving pay equity aims. The successes of nurses unions in achieving equal pay objectives will be addressed. This will be followed by the political and economic restructuring of the Ontario provincial government. Highlighted, will be the policy of fiscal restraint adopted by the Harris government when dealing with the public sector. This will be linked to its effect on pay equity for healthcare workers. Supreme Court and Tribunal decisions concerning pay equity will also be looked at in Ontario. Their effects on the decisions on achieving pay equity will be discussed. Of particular importance is how these decisions have influenced provincial obligations to honor pay equity. Finally, recommendations will be made for a forward moving strategy for pay equity initiatives in Ontario.

T o begin, any discussion of pay equity in Ontario needs to be put into the historical context in which it was developed. As mentioned, the number of women in the public sector was limited up until the late 1960s and early 70s. Prior to that, women were exclusively represented in low level, entry positions ....
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