Pay Equity does not Work Based on Equal Value

Commentary, Economy, Lee Harding

From conception to implementation, pay equity is a sham. It is obscured in double speak, packaged in seemingly laudable goals, and promises great results. However, it cannot deliver them because it is based on false premises. Any good that comes of it is far outweighed by the harm. That is why Canadians should be wary of any legislation promoting pay equity—including that recently introduced by the current government.

“It’s never as easy as two people – man and woman – doing the same job, the woman being paid less than the man,” the Prime Minister explained last February. No it is not. But that misconception was how the feminist mantra of “equal pay for work of equal value” got so far. The public rightfully agrees that a man and a woman doing the same job equally well would be paid the same. But this phrase and its goals are more crafty than that.

Ideologically, equal pay for work of equal value suggests something else. It would say that if a corporation’s engineers were mostly male and made $80,000 annually, but its clerical staff was mostly female and made only $40,000 annually, clearly that company is sexist. It pays secretaries less because it doesn’t value women and the contributions they make, so clearly they should make more.

Thus, pay equity fails because it relies on the same failed form of analysis as every other Marxist tenet: it sees everyone for the class they are a part of and not for the individual. These grievance zealots view the entire world, those in it, and the functions of it—predominantly through a race- or gender-based lens. Some complain that the corporate world doesn’t care about these inequities. What they fail to realize is that since race and sex issues are irrelevant to such employers, then they are not discriminating on that basis in the first place!

The only way that “equal pay for work of equal value” can actually exist is in a free market. A smart employer will pay employees in proportion to the contribution they make to the company. If they don’t, the employee will move on to an employer who will, or, even better, start their own business.

If there’s anyone who does not believe in equal pay for work of equal value, it is unions. They frequently oppose merit pay or right-to-work legislation that allows non-union employees to contend for jobs. People are all classified and paid according to their band level. Hard work can never be rewarded, nor laziness punished neither by dismissal nor a change in pay. Here, mediocrity is glorified and hailed as virtuous, reinforced by equal pay for work of any value.

Nevertheless, unions will always endorse pay equity for obvious reasons. The first is that it aligns with its left-leaning proletariat bent. The second is that it only makes wages go up, not down. The result of any favorable pay equity decision is that women’s wages go up—and not (at least in the short-term) that men’s wages go down. In addition, pay equity means many more government jobs, usually unionized, as pay equity is enforced. It also means unions can justify more dues on its workers as it hires staff to pursue the apparent opportunities created by more robust pay equity legislation.

And robust it is. The new legislation will require employers to be proactive in their pay equity—meaning that all federally-regulated employers and innumerable government departments will have something else to think about, have meetings about, do seminars about, and go endlessly on about, burying productivity in yet another process.

It is woeful to ponder how onerous a proactive process could be when the reactive one was bad enough. It is well-nigh impossible to prove what is in an employer’s head, which makes just decisions dubious. Recently, after 30 years of legal wrangling, Canada’s Supreme Court Chief Justice wrapped it up in a rare 20-second verbal decision. With that, Beverly McLachlan awarded $248 million in a pay equity decision to past female employees. Taxpayers paid for courts and lawyers for three decades, and now every Canadian that mails through the government monopoly will pay more to cover the gap.

In an October 29 press release announcing its legislation, the government proclaimed, “When Canadian women can count on equal pay for work of equal value, our economy grows stronger, families prosper and communities thrive.” Think again.