Supreme Court strikes down parts of Quebec's pay equity law

Quebec union groups are calling it a victory for women — parts of the province's pay equity law were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday.

The law, first passed in 1996 and amended in 2009, was intended to eliminate the pay gap between men and women, but Supreme Court justices reasoned the law did not guarantee equal pay, and thus, violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Union groups representing workers in primarily female-dominated fields challenged an amendment brought to the law in 2009, which called for employers to be assessed every five years to see if they were paying men and women the same for equal work.

If an employer was found to have short-changed women, they'd have to make adjustments in the future, but they wouldn't be required to retroactively compensate women.

The Supreme Court found that that five-year delay violated women’s equal rights and placed the burden on women for their employers’ non-compliance with the law.

'This is a victory'

Heidi Yetman, the head of the teachers' union at the Lester B. Pearson school board calls it a victory for women, but adds the onus is now on the government to make the appropriate changes.

"This is a victory, obviously, because it's very unfair that a woman has to wait five years in order to get paid the same as their male counterparts," she said. "But that being said, we still have a long way to go."

Yetman adds pay equity not only benefits women, but society in general — women with money to spend, she says, can only help the overall economy.

Meanwhile, the high court also faulted the law for the length of time it took for the law to be implemented — the province's pay equity committee took six years to figure out what constituted appropriate compensation for female-dominated workplaces. In some professions, such as daycare, there weren't any male workers to compare the pay scale to.