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Politics Labour leader says Pay Equity Act should also address income disparity in minorities, disabled

The head of Canada’s national labour group says he hopes federal legislation that addresses the female wage gap can benefit other groups, such as Indigenous women, who face a wider income disparity.

The Pay Equity Act, introduced this week in the Liberal government’s 850-page omnibus budget bill, is a good start, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff said. The legislation is “close” to fixing pay-equity issues, he said, but does not address wage gaps among visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities.

“You’re discriminated against because you’re a woman, you’re discriminated against because you have a disability, in some cases you’re discriminated against because of your skin colour or your [sexual] orientation,” said Mr. Yussuff, who supports the bill. “Now, we’ve gotta figure out how to use the pay equity commissioner in a way to try to address that.”

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The proposed law would require the public service and federally regulated companies to monitor how they value the work of different job classes, how those jobs are paid and whether the job classes consist of mostly men or women. The act would also create a pay equity commissioner to enforce the new rules.

In legal terms, pay equity goes further than “equal pay for equal work.” Canada’s human-rights laws mandate equal pay, which means a man and a woman who do the same job must earn the same wages.

Pay-equity policies look for instances in which employers undervalue women in female-dominated professions. These are situations where different jobs that bring similar value to a company and are typically dominated by one gender – say, a female secretary and a male shipping clerk – are compensated differently.

Statistics Canada data show women, over all, earned 74.2 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2017. That income disparity, however, grows wider for women who are visible minorities or who have a disability.

Parisa Mahboubi, a senior policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute, said her research shows that visible minorities – the term Statscan uses – earn almost 20 per cent less, on average, than Canadians who are not visible minorities. That gap widens further for women of colour, who earned, on average, 70 per cent of what a man who is not a visible minority earned.

She said her research considered factors such as education, experience and hours worked. “After controlling for all characteristics that may drive earning gaps, we still see some gaps that then we can say that’s discrimination,” Dr. Mahboubi said.

Sheila Malcolmson, the NDP critic for women’s equality, said pay discrimination against visible minorities and others is a concern. The legislation doesn’t appear to address that issue, she said, but her party was still digging into the details. If it is absent, she said, there’s a good chance it will come up during committee study.

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The proposed law is separate from the Employment Equity Act, which aims to address workplace discrimination among four groups: women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities.

Véronique Simard, the Labour Minister’s press secretary, did not say why the government’s bill only targeted the wage gap for one of those groups, but she said they hoped it would benefit a wider group of people.

“Ultimately, pay equity is designed to target gender discrimination in pay and will benefit all workers, regardless of gender, working in occupations where the work force is mostly women.”

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