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Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Real discrimination

National Post

Pay equity advocates claim to correct labour market flaws that arise from discrimination against women. They believe that systemic discrimination exists against female-dominated professions and they want to base the payment for jobs on effort and skill (as expressed in various formulae) rather than on their market value.

These formulae are intellectually worthless. A job may require great skill and effort -- poet, for instance -- but attract few customers. Nor is there a single scale of value whereby we can equate the risks of a policeman's life with the discomforts of a nurse's. Pay equity is pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo.

And where is the need for it? It is already illegal to pay unequal wages to equally qualified men and women who do the same job. Nor, despite much mythologizing, is there much evidence for sex discrimination in wages: Single men and women earn practically the same income, and single educated women earn more than single educated men. What explains the apparent wage gap is that women are more likely to choose less-remunerated jobs that give them the flexibility both to combine work and family and to leave the labour market temporarily to raise children.

"Pay equity" rests on thin air.

Now, a 10-year-old pay equity document has shown it to be legally groundless too. In 1989, Diana Neathway, a pay equity commissioner, reviewed a claim by the Ontario Nurses Association (who wanted pay equity with police) that alleged one employer, the regional municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk, was bargaining in bad faith. Ms. Neathway concluded the nurses' complain was unjustified.

Shortly after, however, she left the Ontario Pay Equity Commission. Her supervisor, Murray Lapp, promptly ordered the parties to resume negotiations, signing this order under Ms. Neathway's name and asserting that the nurses' case was justified. This fraudulent letter served as the basis for six decisions made by the pay equity tribunal -- one declaring the police a proper comparison for nurses. Those six rulings in turn became a precedent, quoted in 36 later pay equity rulings that have cost the Ontario taxpayer millions.

What other legal and ethical breaches have occurred in the "administration" of pay equity? How many other orders signed by Mr. Lapp need to be examined? An inquiry is not the answer. A request for a review would first go before the pay equity tribunal! And an appeal to the courts would take years.

Nor should the 1997 forgery charge, however justified, against Mr. Lapp be re-instated. What is needed here is not a judicial penalty but a repeal of the system that Mr. Lapp helped inflict on Ontario. Premier Mike Harris, who championed the repeal of such illiberal laws as the quota-based employment equity legislation, should now end Ontario's pay equity system that was always fraudulent economics and is now known to be fraudulent law too.

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