Bill 13 does not go far enough in ensuring pay equity for women and other marginalized groups.

Mar 31, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Economy, Governance, Legislature, Well-being | 0 comments

Last Tuesday, I spoke to Bill 13, the Pay Transparency Act. While this Bill makes moderate steps forward, pay transparency alone does little to change the discrimination women and other marginalized people face at work. What we need in BC is pay equity.

The cost of not addressing pay inequity is borne by women. They continue to bear the burden of this government’s inaction. In the 1980s and 1990s, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Quebec all enacted pay equity legislation, imposing proactive obligations on employers to take steps to identify and eliminate wage discrimination.

The BC NDP could have chosen to bring in pay equity legislation. They could have chosen to act on the systemic sexism and racism built into our province. Instead, they chose half measures. Unfortunately, Bill 13 is a half measure.

Every day this province delays is a day that women and gender-diverse people, especially racialized women, are forced to navigate the world with fewer resources and more challenges.


A. Olsen:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Nice to see you today.

I rise to speak to Bill 13, the Pay Transparency Act. Efforts to address the gender pay gap in British Columbia have been a long time in making and are desperately needed. B.C. is one of the last provinces in Canada without pay equity or pay transparency legislation. We are tied with Alberta for having the worst gender pay gap in our country. Women and people who are marginalized because of their gender are being systematically underpaid for work of equal value.

Despite the fact that the B.C. human rights code prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and gender expression, many women and gender-diverse people in British Columbia earn, on average, 17 percent less than their cis male colleagues for doing similar work. Indigenous, Black and racialized people and those who have a disability or are otherwise marginalized expect to even make less.

Bill 13 offers an attempt to remedy this pay disparity. However, it does not go far enough. It is, frankly, an unfortunate missed opportunity. It may not achieve what is suggested is being achieved, which is narrowing the pay gap. Absent from Bill 13 are critical aspects to ensure robust and effective pay transparency, including oversight and accountability mechanisms like fines or other penalties for non-compliance. Disclosing wage gaps cannot be voluntary. Employers who do not comply should be named publicly and should face fines of a significant size to change the behaviour.

Transparency in all aspects of compensation is missing from Bill 13, and the way it is being applied may not help policymakers understand the gender wage gap in British Columbia in the way that they need to. In B.C., Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender’s words: “Why pay transparency matters is because it allows us to understand what’s happening across sectors and systems. This bill doesn’t allow for that kind of comparison. It doesn’t create a data set that will allow for that kind of comparison.”

I’m concerned that the proposed legislation could place the onus on the worker to advocate for themselves if they are not being paid equally for similar work. Absent from Bill 13 is any mention of pay equity. Despite the calls from experts, stakeholders and researchers, pay transparency requires employers to disclose information and data about pay gaps.

We don’t need more data to know that women get paid less. What we need is action to be taken to close the gaps, and Bill 13 doesn’t do that. If this government actually wanted women to be paid fairly across the economy, they would advance pay equity policies, as was done in many other provinces in the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning in 1986, six Canadian provinces — Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Quebec — enacted pay equity legislation, which imposes proactive obligations on employers to take steps to identify and eliminate wage discrimination.

Recognizing the importance of pay equity legislation, in 2001, the B.C. NDP government introduced an amendment to the human rights code to enshrine the right of all British Columbians to receive equal pay for work of equal value. At that time, the government acknowledged that pay equity is fundamentally a question of human rights and concluded that:

“Pay equity for women will not be achieved without legislation…. Our friends at the federal level have introduced pay equity legislation. Ontario has introduced pay equity legislation. Quebec has introduced pay equity legislation, which covers both the public and the private sectors. So what is the excuse not to act? There is no excuse. It’s time to act.”

Mr. Speaker, I went through the Hansard from those days in 2001, a spring sitting not dissimilar to the spring sitting that we’re having right now. March 22, 2001, was when a bill that was brought forward by the former former B.C. NDP government. Graeme Bowbrick brought this legislation in. There are pages and pages of comments from the then B.C. NDP members of government talking about pay equity as the basis for what needs to be done.

Let’s take a look at what the member from Comox Valley, Evelyn Gillespie, raised.

“I would submit to you that pay equity is not a new idea. It is not a new idea at all. We’ve been working in a very proactive manner in British Columbia over the last ten years to achieve pay equity in the public service, and there are many businesses and unions across this province and across this country that have bargained for pay equity. Pay equity is not something new. As a matter of fact, in 1977…”

one year after I was born, that’s getting to be a long time ago now. Sorry. That’s me adding into that. Getting back to what the former member Gillespie said. Good heavens, almost 25 years ago — Canada enshrined the principle of pay equity in our Human Rights Code. Can you believe that, Hon. Speaker?”

I’m going to continue.

“We’ve been working for ten years now on stopping violence against women, on preventing violence from beginning in the first place, on improving access for women to appropriate health care and on working to improve the economic status of women in British Columbia.

Over those ten years, several things have become clear. What we found is that pay equity for women will not be achieved without legislation.”

That is precisely what this version of the B.C. NDP government is trying to achieve. We have in front of us pay transparency legislation. The members of the B.C. NDP government — now another 22 years ago; I believe I got that math right; yeah, 22 years ago — knew that this attempt 22 years in the future would fail because the very basis of the legislation that they moved was on pay equity.

Today this NDP government somehow has found its way to take a giant step backwards and introduce a bill that is far less than what their predecessors were prepared to and passed, the legislation that was torn up just a few weeks after it was passed.

Continuing from the quote from Evelyn Gillespie:

“I would submit that voluntary pay equity is not the road to pay equity for women in British Columbia. Again, I would say that since 1977, when Canada enshrined the principle in our Human Rights Code, we have not seen a whole lot of progress. As a matter of fact, I believe my colleague said…. Was it half a cent a year a year toward pay equity? Friends, Colleagues, that’s not good enough. Undervaluing and underpaying the work traditionally done by women is to firmly entrenched in our society. It’s too entrenched to have it dismantled only by consensus building, negotiation, ongoing discussion. It is time to end the talking and to get something done, and I would submit that it’s long past time. This is not the time to talk about pay equity. This is the time to do it, to achieve it.”

Today, in this very wealthy province, British Columbia, women represent a disproportionate number of families living in poverty. The simple truth is that women cannot participate equally in British Columbia if they are discriminated against on their paycheque. Pay equity legislation will end that.

Let’s go to what Sue Hammell had to say, another distinguished member of the B.C. NDP — the former, former government. Sue Hammell said this. “What absolutely floors me about this opposition” — talking about the previous version of the current opposition — “is that the previous administration, prior to this government in the 1990s, was working on pay equity.” They began working on pay equity in the late 1980s. It was a Socred government.

Continuing: “And here we are, past the year 2000, and we have an opposition that isn’t even prepared to stand up with women and fight for the government for pay for work of equal value. It’s astonishing.” Thankfully, the opposition is prepared to work with the government on this. I think that is one of the aspects of evolution that’s happened in this House.

Unfortunately, what we are discussing, and what we’re debating today, is far less than what was being proposed back in those early days of 2000. Let’s take a look at what Joan Smallwood had to say — a very substantive speech. Joan Smallwood said: “The amendment that this House has in front of it simply acknowledges that the issue of equal pay for equal value is a fundamental human right — nothing more complicated than that, simply the recognition of a fundamental human right.”

Where does that stand? Where does that position currently lie in this version of the B.C. NDP government? Why is it that in 2001, Joan Smallwood stood up in this House, in this very room, and said that the amendment that this House has in front of it simply acknowledges that the issue of equal pay for equal value is a fundamental human right? How is it that 22 years later, we have taken steps backwards from that position?

I will say this. When this legislation, which, quite rightly…. The five, six times a version of it was advanced by our former colleague from Surrey, the government let us know that something was going to happen. Something was going to happen over the past six years that I’ve been in here. Something was going to happen. This is what we have in front of us. It’s pay transparency, a version that the former B.C. NDP government would not have stood for. But yet, when this was rolled out, it was to great fanfare and to great celebration that this government — that had been dragged into this, frankly — was now offering something far less than what their predecessors were offering.

How is it that we can celebrate that?

Okay. I accept. Let’s celebrate a modest step forward. It’s better than what is there, but it is far less than what this government promised back in 2001. They should be ashamed of themselves for offering something far less than what is acceptable in 2023. Here we are, 22 years later. After all of these dozens and dozens and dozens of pages of transcripts from Hansard of the B.C. NDP on the record, standing and saying that nothing less than pay equity legislation is acceptable, British Columbia remains one of the few jurisdictions in Canada without proactive pay equity legislation. We are there because this legislation that the former B.C. NDP members were talking about was scrapped, was reversed almost immediately after the new B.C. Liberal government came to power.

Last month, over 125 activists called on this government to introduce pay equity legislation. They warned: “If your government’s efforts end at pay transparency, this will be seen for what it is: a failure to meet even the bar set over two decades ago by another NDP government.” And that’s exactly what’s happened. That’s what the legacy this government is leaving is — half-steps and back-pedalling.

In August 2022, the Battered Women’s Support Services recommended that pay transparency legislation be subject to strong enforcement mechanisms and independent oversight. They recommended that pay transparency legislation be followed by the development and introduction of pay equity legislation. These recommendations from experts, advocates and those with lived experience of discrimination went unheeded by this government in the creation of Bill 13.

We still hold out hope that maybe sometime in the next few days or the next few weeks of this session pay equity legislation will soon follow. But from the celebrations, from the fanfare that brought this bill in, it doesn’t appear that that is something that we should be holding our breath for.

Half-measures have consequences. While this government delayed and took their time to introduce pay transparency, women and gender-diverse people have been the ones paying the price. We are currently experiencing an affordability crisis. Inflation has increased. The housing crisis has worsened. The cost of groceries and child care has risen, yet women are still paid less than they deserve, still paid less than those working right alongside them.

As the B.C. NDP noted in 2001, “pay equity puts more money into the pockets of female workers, reduces dependence on social programs, increases overall spending and results in increased tax revenue.” “Everyone in the province should share in its prosperity. Economic advancement should not come at the expense of women.”

And actually, if I had my papers here a little bit better organized, there are some phenomenal quotes from previous NDP women, NDP members of this House, talking about exactly this point — exactly this point. The burden is being carried by women in our province, by gender-diverse people, by marginalized people. That’s who this government is putting the burden on, not on the businesses. They’re putting the burden on the women who are working in those businesses. And if they find that acceptable, then they’ll have to answer to that, because it’s not acceptable.

As we all know, financial dependence is a significant contributor to gender-based violence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this situation does not impact everyone the same way. In Canada, white women make 89 cents for every dollar a man makes. Racialized women earn 67 cents on that dollar. Disabled women earn 54 cents for every dollar. Racialized migrant women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by their white counterpart. The reality of the gender pay gap means that racialized women are most likely to be minimum-wage earners in the province and are most likely to retire with smaller pensions in older age.

Unpaid caregiving responsibilities disproportionately fall on women, which further impacts economic insecurity. The cost of not addressing pay equity is borne by women. They continue to bear the burden of this government’s inaction. They will continue to carry the burden of this government’s decision to move pay transparency legislation that has no enforcement. There’s no way to hold accountability. It’s just, basically, we’ll throw it out there and hope that everyone will be reading the report and then voluntarily holding themselves accountable to that.

It took six years for this B.C. NDP government to deliver that? This government had a choice — a choice to do the right thing, the best thing, for the public. They could have chosen to bring in pay equity legislation and a robust pay transparency legislation.

They could have chosen to act on the systemic sexism and racism built systemically in our province. Instead, they chose half measures.

In Bill 13, for the half that’s there…. Good. Finally. It took long enough. It took too long. But the half that’s not there? Shame. Every day in this province delays, even if we’re saying the right things. There are women and gender diverse people, especially racialized women, navigating this world with fewer resources and bigger challenges. That’s on this government.

We had an opportunity in this session. We were promised something much bigger than what we have been delivered. Now, I’m certain we are going to hear from the current version of the B.C. NDP how what they’re doing is taking a monumental step forward. As those words are being uttered in this House, they need to be held up against the words that were said in here previously, 22 years ago. If it is not matching what has already previously been done in this House, then it is far less than acceptable. Thank you for this opportunity to speak.


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