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September 4, 1998 Halifax Herald

Pay equity ruling not about a human rights issue

The Canadian Human Rights Commission's pay-equity ruling in July was about a matter outside it's mandate. My assertion is based upon this simple fact: there was not an act of gender discrimination in the work place for it to correct.

To help the reader understand the issue, I'll use my own experience: I landed a job in the Public Service in 1971 as a Clerk 4 (CR4). The salary was based upon a pay scale which was negotiated by the union for Clerks 1 to 7. (Salaries for all classifications in the Public Service are set in the same manner.) The pay received by male and female Clerks was based entirely upon these scales. There are not any his-and-hers pay scales in the Canadian public service.

I have no doubt that the Canadian Human Rights Commission's management had to work overtime to stretch things out of proportion to accept the matter as a complaint in the first place. This is probably the reason why it took it 14 years to come up with a decision that is virtually impossible for Canadians to understand.

However, since The tribunal handed down its creative decision, the Commission has been largely successful in selling it to the general public as a settlement of a gender-discrimination matter. This feat has been accomplished with the full cooperation of the news media. Starting when Donna Gillis released the decision, the media have made reams of uninformed supportive commentary by relying upon the propaganda released by the Commission for information.

The truth of the matter is that the issue has nothing to do with gender discrimination. Itís strictly a disagreement between employer and employees about job classification, duties and pay. It was, is and should remain a matter to be settled by negotiations between the employee's union and the employer. If the clerks have a case, and the Feds don't cooperate, they have the strike option to help realize their goal. And if itís true they haven't received any pay raises for a number of years, they should have a hard look at the negotiating ability of the Union representing them.

Another false aspect of this case is the implication that the clerical field was designated to be female dominated. At the time I joined the public service, males were not scarce in the clerical category. However, the classification was considered by management to be an excellent tool to help bring into the Public Service non-professional disadvantaged people, including women. I was employed by this method. The bad aspect of it is that non-minority men have been virtually excluded from the classification.

Across the board, women now constitute over 50% of the federal workforce. As a matter of fact, they have been so successful at acquiring jobs in the public service that many men are making noises about reverse discrimination. There may be some truth to this allegation. The fact that the Clerical field has become female dominated lends support to it.

The female-dominated label also implies that men are not interested in clerical jobs. Make no mistake about it, if all the positions in the clerical field became vacant today, it would not be a problem to fill them with males. The male lineups across this country for these positions, which have a salary range from $9.34 to $22.92 per hour, would extend as far as the eye could see.

Now a few words about the income clerks receive and advancement options. The income I received as a Clerk, although not overly generous, was enough to provide the wherewithal to support our family of four. We couldn't afford exotic vacations on it, but we were comfortable - mortgage, car and other expenses were paid without problem. When we began to conclude that a few luxuries would be nice, I went looking for a job in another category, eventually landing one as a PM2, economic development officer. This position required that I undertake more responsibility and, thus, the pay was higher.

The same scenario I used for advancement was used by many female colleagues. Over time, they have become so adept at using the system to move upward that many now hold top management positions.

Based on the before-mentioned, despite the near hysterical opposition of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the decision by the government to appeal is the right one. I don't believe that any court of competent jurisdiction will uphold the tribunal's decision. The court's reaction will probably be an order for the opposing parties to commence negotiations to find an equitable settlement.

Lastly, the human rights commission should henceforth confine its activities towards dealing with real discriminatory matters. Examples: It should uncover employment cases where men are being paid more than women for the same jobs, or vice versa, and settle them. Investigate why First Nations Peoples have never been meaningfully employed by Nova Scotia. Why are prisons in the western provinces overflowing with Native people? There is enough blatant discrimination afield in Canada today to keep the Commission occupied for decades; it does not need to make work for itself by trying to resolve issues outside it's mandate.

Daniel N. Paul

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