The United Nations has designated September 18 as International Equal Pay Day. This recognition is an intentional focus on the disparities of the pay between women and men for work of equal value, where the work requires equal or more skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.
The demand for equal pay is consistent with the foundational principles of human rights that are captured in the preamble of the Ontario Human Rights Code. In particular, to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination that is contrary to law, dignity and justice. That is why International Equal Pay Day should be celebrated by everyone.
The U.N. estimates that across the world, the gender pay gap is around 20 per cent. It explains that “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls continue to be held back owing to the persistence of historical and structural unequal power relations between women and men...”
In 1987, Ontario enacted the Pay Equity Act to recognize the value of women’s work and eliminating gender discrimination. Many employers in the private and public sector including government have a positive obligation to close the pay equity gap. Statistics Canada data shows that the average pay gap for women in Ontario is on average 25 per cent. The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition explains that the gap is much wider for racialized women, women with disabilities, Indigenous women and immigrants. Across all sectors in employment – the boardrooms, factory floors, hospitals, and even in birthing services, women continue to earn less than men for the same work.
The case of Ontario (Health) v Association of Ontario Midwives is a good example of how challenging the fight for pay equity has been. In a 2018 decision, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that Ontario midwives had experienced systemic gender discrimination in wage compensation from 2005 to 2013. In 2019, the HRTO ordered the government to take steps to end midwives’ gender wage gap. The government appealed the HRTO decision, first to the Ontario Divisional Court and then at the Court of Appeal.
The systemic and long historical nature of this case warranted the intervention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to deal with systemic discrimination. In June 2022, the Court of Appeal affirmed the HRTO and the Div. Court decisions. In August 2022, Ontario indicated it will not seek leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Like the enactment of the Pay Equity Act in 1987, this was unprecedented and is an advancement for pay equity in Ontario. While this is a small win to celebrate, attaining pay equity is still an ongoing struggle. The elimination of the gender pay equity gap must be a concerted effort by the government, the private sectors and every employer.