Salary equity in Quebec: 10 years later



It was planned that way from the beginning: ten years after the passing of the Pay Equity Act, on November 21, 1996, the Minister of Labour in Quebec was to present a report evaluating its implementation to the National Assembly. This was done on November 21, 2006.


Finding 1: The salary gap between men and women has not declined much!

The hourly wage gap went from 16.1% in 1997 to 13.9% in 2004, a decrease of 2.2%. As for the average annual salary gap, it declined from 34.7% in 1995 to 33% in 2004, a decrease of 1.7%

Many factors explain the annual gap, including the fact that more women than men hold down part-time jobs. Moreover, since they generally have not been in the workplace as long, they have less seniority. Finally, the higher rate of women attending university has not yet been fully reflected in the workplace.

"Between 1991 and 2001, there were no significant changes in the 20 jobs held mainly by women, nor in the 20 jobs held mostly by men," emphasizes Johanne Tremblay, who is charge of communications at the Commission de l'équité salariale [pay equity commission]. "The Pay Equity Act will not close the gap in average hourly salaries to zero," she warns. "The law only aims to correct the undervaluation of female work, and not to correct the fact that more women work in less well-paid sectors."


Finding 2: The Commission's perception differs from that of employers.

Two-thirds of companies consider that they have completed the pay equity exercise, while the Commission estimates that one-half is a more accurate figure. "This gap confirms the results of our surveys," Ms. Tremblay states. "When we ask employers if they have completed the exercise, many reply that they have, but the answer no longer holds when we question them on the implementation of each of the steps. It's not a question of bad faith, but insufficient knowledge of the law. We will continue our work of building awareness."


The future

The Minister of Labour will set up a parliamentary committee in the spring of 2007, except if an election is called. Among the items under consideration:

  • Making the law apply to any company of more than ten employees. Currently, only those companies that already had ten employees one year after the law came into effect are subject to it, along with those who hired their first ten employees within a 12-month period.
  • The law provides for the necessity of maintaining pay equity. Among the methods used to ensure this, the Commission proposes repeating the pay equity exercise every four years starting in 2008. This would be an opportunity to correct the gaps that were not fixed during the first exercise. "Correcting the undervaluation of women's work requires a change in culture," affirms Johanne Tremblay. "The slow transformation of attitudes and the progressive development of expertise are obstacles to a rapid application of the law. Ontario, which adopted a similar law ten years before Quebec, experienced the same thing. It is the only other province to have enacted pay equity legislation targeting the private sector."


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