Opening Remarks of the Pay Equity Commissioner to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

Speaking Notes

Karen Jensen

Federal Pay Equity Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Opening Remarks of the Pay Equity Commissioner
to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

Thursday, February 4, 2021

11:00 a.m.

5 minutes

 

 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Hello Madame Chair, Vice‑Chairs and Honourable Committee Members.

My name is Karen Jensen and I am Canada’s first federal Pay Equity Commissioner. With me today is Jeff Willbond, Director General, Proactive Compliance Branch of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

I would like to begin by acknowledging, with gratitude, the Algonquin Anishnabe Nation, from whose traditional and unceded territory I am speaking today.

I’m honoured to be asked to speak with you today about why now is the right time for pay equity in Canada, and to fill you in on the work that the Pay Equity Division of the Canadian Human Rights Commission is doing to prepare for the coming into force of the Pay Equity Act.

Since being called to the Bar in 1994, I have been involved in representing employees, unions and employers in lengthy, contentious and extremely costly pay equity litigation. I saw the toll that pay equity litigation took on all those involved and believe very strongly in the benefits of Canada’s move to a proactive pay equity system. That’s why I was deeply honoured to be appointed Federal Pay Equity Commissioner in October 2019.

I truly believe that pay equity is an important building block for Canada as it moves to “build back better” from the pandemic.

COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities… and our inequalities. Women have disproportionately felt the pandemic’s impact – especially racialized women, Indigenous women, migrant women, women with low-income, single mothers, LGBTQ2I+ women and women with disabilities or mental health issues.

Women workers in Canada were hit first by the pandemic…

And they’re feeling the impact the longest.

In November 2020, RBC Economics reported that the pandemic had rolled back the clock on three decades of women’s progress in the labour market, setting Canada’s economy up for a slower recovery than would otherwise be the case.

Closing the gender pay gap is essential to our country’s economic and social recovery, and it is essential for Canadian workers.

This is a painful time for many businesses. For those concerned about bringing in this legislation at this time, it should be noted that there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates how paying women equally for work of equal value to men’s work is good for business.

For example, the Harvard Business Review recently highlighted research showing that, in regions like North America, the most talented individuals prefer to work in companies that foster diversity.

Pay equity is a tool in promoting gender diversity in companies. It will assist companies to attract top talent, which will in turn assist them to outperform their peers.

In preparing for the new legislation coming into force, I have conducted extensive consultations with unions, employers, women’s organizations and employer associations – to identify any concerns they may have and to find out how we could best address them.

In response to the needs identified by stakeholders, the Pay Equity team is developing educational materials, guidance documents and concrete tools that will assist the workplace parties to implement the Act. We are working closely with stakeholder groups to ensure these tools work well for employers and employees.

Communication about the new legislation is key to our success. My goal as Commissioner is to demystify pay equity and help employers to see that it is a golden opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality in the workplace.

The economic conditions for women are perilous and need to be addressed. Pay equity is one tool – among many – that will make a concrete difference in the economic reality of many women, and help us as a nation to benefit from the full participation of women in the workplace.

I welcome your questions.