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Is Pay Equity a Human Right?

Sit down at your computer and do a web search using the key-words "equal pay for equal work", and what will the search engine present you with?

Well, you can be pretty sure that it will present a lot of references to web sites that are focused on gender discrimination and women's rights in the work place.

But is that what pay equity is about? Is it only about gender discrimination? Or, perhaps more inclusively, is this concept there to protect minorities? Or does the idea go still further than that? Is "equal pay for equal work" a universal right? Is it there to protect everyone from unscrupulous employers?

To put it simply, is pay equity a human right?

Let's ask the UN.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 23.

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

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But of course states have sovereign power, and the legal force of this declaration may depend upon individual states ratifying it.
I live in Canada, So let's double check with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

At this site we find that: -

Pay equity is a human right.

That it applies not only to women but also to "others".

That Canada's international human rights obligations require that it (this human right) be supported in a consistent, integrated and proactive fashion.

That pay equity is one of the earliest human rights recognised as an international standard.

The right of pay equity is enshrined in many international agreements to which Canada has been bound for decades.

That human rights are paramount and must be interpreted liberally and progressively.

That human rights, including pay equity, are universal and indivisible.

That human rights, including pay equity, must be the same everywhere and for everyone.

There must be a clear mandate that pay equity is available to all.

And on and on...

This clearly indicates that although women may be the primary or most prominent victims of wage discrimination, they or any other group are not necessarily the only victims, and that in fact the principal of pay equity applies to all.

I can only add, that I am left wondering, in my unprofessional opinion: -

How can pay inequity be justified just because a person has the additional misfortune of being laid-off from time to time and is thus categorised as seasonal?

How can there be any enforceable validity to the clauses in our contracts that support two-tierism?

How can union negotiators present these illegal contracts to their membership?

How can we as union members stoop to ratify them?

How can companies like MOLSON Canada (the multinational that I work for) have the gall to enforce such contracts and still claim to be "equal opportunity employers"?

John Barker

Your comments, questions, ideas and opinions are important!

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October 2003