Federal civil servants were jubilant last month when Mr. Justice Evans of the Federal Court (Trial Division) ruled against the federal government's attempt to evade pay equity.
After a bitter 15 year struggle for wage equity in the federal public sector, Justice Evans dismissed the government's appeal of the 1998 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision that found women workers in selected job categories had been underpaid in comparison to comparable male workers. For more than 200,000 (mostly women) workers, this means that the years of waiting for justice are finally over.
Justice Evans made clear that the systemic wage differentials were a result of years of occupational segregation and the undervaluation of women's work, contrary to section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
He also had strong words of criticism for the government's approach to the case, holding that "the Attorney General's argument was based on the narrowest possible interpretation of the Canadian Human Rights Act ... It paid only lip-service to the regular admonitions from the Supreme Court that, as quasi-constitutional legislation, human rights statutes are to be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner."
After much uncertainty following the release of the award, and rumours the government would again appeal the decision, the treasury board has agreed to pay out the $3.5 billion it owes to the workers.
In the wake of the powerful decision, the government has announced it will be amending the existing pay equity legislation in order to "clarify" the obligations of the federal government and other federally regulated employers.
It may be that the next struggle for equity will be in ensuring the recent gains that have been made are not eroded by these proposed changes.
The full text of the decision can be found at http://www.psac.com/payequity/new/june99/pay-e.htm#Decision.