Employment Equity For Women:
An Important And Complex Demand
BY LOUISE BOIVIN
There are two principal reason for the failure of equal
pay for work of equal value in Québec: the persistent sexual segregation
of occupations, and the limits of judicial enforcement.
Continued segregation (or gettoisation) of women in low
paying employment facilitates discriminatory practices by employers who evoke
the lesser value of occupations in which women are concentrated. As for legal
enforcement in Québec the burden of the proof rests with the workers
themselves or with their union. In other words, the subtle and pervasive sexism
that influenced the establishment of wages in the first place is unassumed and
must be proven.
In 1986 the Québec government authorized
employment equity programs. But most of them, save those in government
ministries or organizations, are based on voluntary compliance and, again, the
burden of proof lies with the worker. Also, employers are extremely reluctant
to openly negotiate the terms of their equal access programs. But these
programs do not address the devaluation of work performed by women, which is
tied to an idea of female work as free and voluntary. Employers underestimate
or deny the professional qualifications of women, or treat them as "natural"
aptitudes that need not be remunerated. It is necessary therefore, to also
enforce pay equity and to recognize the real value of work traditionally
performed by women.
Equal access programs, then, are necessary to ensure
equitable hiring, promotion and training practices while enforced pay equity
has broader implications and attacks directly the under-valuation of women's
work. But the traditional sexism of the job market will not be eliminated until
women themselves become vigilant in ensuring all objectives are met.