This case concerned the right to pay equity for women in Newfoundland.
LEAF, with the support of West Coast LEAF, intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
In 1988, the Newfoundland and Labrador government signed a Pay Equity Agreement for women in thehealth care sector, including those represented by the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees (NAPE) in collective bargaining. In 1991, that same government introduced the Public Sector Restraint Act, which deferred the promised pay increase from 1988 to 1991. This meant that workers were no longer entitled to the $24 million for pay differences between 1988 to 1991. The government justified this change based on the financial crisis facing the province.
A number of women affected by the wage cuts filed grievances. The Arbitration Board (the Board) found that the change violated s. 15 of the Charter and could not be saved under s. 1. On judicial review, the motions judge overturned the Board’s decision, finding that the violation was justified under s. 1. The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal agreed with the motions judge.
LEAF argued that the government had a legal obligation to remedy its own sex-based wage discrimination. It emphasized that, when the government perpetrated unequal pay, it devalued women’s contributions to society and sent the message that women’s inequality was not a public responsibility. By going back on its pay equity promise, the government continued, condoned, and worsened discrimination against women. That s. 15 violation could not be justified under s. 1.
The Supreme Court of Canada found that the change to the pay equity regime violated s. 15 of the Charter. It reinforced the idea that women could be paid less simply because they were women, essentially affirming a policy of gender discrimination which the government had only just condemned. However, the Court held that the change was justified under s. 1 of the Charter. This was based on the severe financial crisis facing Newfoundland and Labrador, and that the government had only slowed the implementation of pay equity.
LEAF is grateful to Karen Schucher and Fiona Sampson, counsel in this case.
Download the factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].