Pay equity - Rebuild trust with employers by changing the role of the Pay Equity Commission, CPQ demands

    MONTREAL, Feb. 20 /CNW Telbec/ - Ten years after the Pay Equity Act took
effect, the Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ) has concluded that the various
roles of the Commission de l'équité salariale are incompatible and greatly
undermine its credibility among employers. The CPQ is therefore requesting
changes to the Commission's mandate.
    At today's hearings by the National Assembly Committee on Labour and
Economy, the CPQ noted that the pay equity commission provides advice,
promotes pay equity, investigates and adjudicates in its various work with
employers. The inherent conflict between advice and investigation, for
example, has prevented the commission from maintaining any appearance of the
neutrality, objectivity or impartiality required to carry out its mission.
    "The Commission de l'équité salariale is currently acting as both judge
and party," said CPQ president Michel Kelly-Gagnon. "The role of counsel is
not compatible with the mandate to investigate. If the Commission's
credibility is to be re-established, as well as the relationship of trust with
employers, the two roles must be given to separate organizations."
    In concrete terms, the CPQ recommends assigning decision-making powers to
the Commission des relations du travail. It therefore supports the proposal
made in the Rapport Geoffrion in March 2006 by the Groupe de travail sur
l'examen des organismes du gouvernement. The pay equity commission should
focus on its role of providing information and advice to employers that have
not yet completed their pay equity process.
    According to estimates by the CPQ, 82% of employees subject to the Pay
Equity Act have already been covered by completed equity processes. However,
the task of accompanying employers that have not yet completed their process
will be significant since the Act is probably creating the most difficulty for
such employers.

    A problematic exercise

    Given the many problems involved in applying the Pay Equity Act, which
have been carefully documented and described in over half of the CPQ's brief,
Quebec's main employers' federation is recommending that the Labour Minister
be given the mandate to establish and lead an advisory committee to propose
solutions for the problems faced by employers due to the mechanism currently
set out in the Act, as well as its interpretation and application by the
Commission de l'équité salariale.
    "Current application of the law is long, arduous and costly for
employers," said Mr. Kelly-Gagnon. "Many problems require legislative
modifications that should be carefully considered. The committee proposed by
the CPQ would be the place for key leaders to choose the right solutions."
    Foremost among these problems is the validity of distinct programs. Under
Article 11 of the Pay Equity Act, if a union makes the request, an employer
must create a pay equity program distinct from the general program. Many such
distinct programs have no "predominantly female job classes."
    After having approved such programs during the first nine years of the
Act's application, the pay equity commission made a surprise reversal - which
is just one example of actions that have eroded employers' confidence - and
wants to require all employers that have created such programs to return to
the beginning and start their pay equity processes over again. This about-face
would bring considerable new administrative costs to the employers involved,
in addition to undermining the credibility of pay equity processes already
carried out in good faith and according to the law. The CPQ is therefore
demanding that the validity of these distinct programs be explicitly
recognized in the Act.

    Maintaining equity: distinguishing between the means and the end

    Since most employers have completed their equity process, the main
challenge for the years to come will be maintaining the right to equity. The
pay equity commission wishes to maintain this right through periodic pay
equity processes, an approach the CPQ finds completely unacceptable since it
would require companies to indefinitely keep active programs and processes
established under the law.
    "The Commission is confusing the right to pay equity, a principle fully
supported by employers, with the Pay Equity Act, a means implemented to
achieve a specific goal within a clearly set time frame. This distinction is
fundamental," said Mr. Kelly-Gagnon.
    Going over the debates surrounding adoption of the Act in 1997, the CPQ
reminded the parliamentary hearing of the exceptional nature of the Pay Equity
Act's adoption and its suspension of the right to recourse for persons
affected under Article 19 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms,
which guarantees the right to pay equity. This suspension should correspond to
the proactive phase of the new Act, which was to run from 1997 to 2001, to
correct wage gaps due to systemic discrimination.
    Given these circumstances, the CPQ recommends reinstating the right to
recourse under Article 19 of the Charter, while maintaining the Pay Equity Act
for employers that have not yet fulfilled their obligations. Rather than be
protected by new provisions of the Act, as requested by the Commission de
l'équité salariale, the maintenance phase, which follows the proactive phase
of the Act, should be assured by the Charter, a recommendation also made by
the Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse when the Pay Equity
Act was written.

    The Conseil du patronat du Québec is the main federation of employers in
Quebec. The organization includes many of the province's largest companies as
well as the vast majority of sector-based employers' associations.

For further information:

For further information: Patrick Leblanc, Director of Communications,
Conseil du patronat du Québec, (514) 288-5161, ext. 226, Cell.: (514)

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