For 413 women all across Canada, May 25th, 2009, was a day of vindication. It brought resolution, albeit bitter sweet, to an equality dispute, ongoing since 1972 and exemplified the expeditious utility of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in dealing with matters of discrimination.
Employed as medical adjudicators, this predominately female group of nurses works with medical advisors, a predominately male group of doctors, to evaluate applications for the CPP Disability Benefit Program and determine eligibility.
Since the position's creation, the adjudicators (nurses) have been categorized as program administrators, whereas the advisors (doctors) are categorized as medical officers despite the overlap of duties between the two positions and the need for adjudicators to utilize their medical science expertise. This classification differential has lead to a deprivation of professional recognition, remuneration commensurate with their qualifications, including payment of their licensing fees, as well as training and career advancement opportunities.
After rendering its initial decision on liability in 2007, which found the federal government responsible for discrimination on the basis of sex, this recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling addresses the issue of remedy. As a result, a new subgroup within the Health Services Occupational Group and the Nursing Classification will be created. This proper categorization will ensure the work of medical adjudicators is viewed within its proper professional context moving into the future.
But what of the women who have endured the longevity of this battle and are now coming to the end of their careers? Unfortunately, no compensation for wage loss was awarded nor compensation for pain and suffering (except in two circumstances). Instead, these 413 women are left with only the sense that they participated in the righting of a historical wrong and will recuperate their legal fees. Not one national headline has regarded the conclusion of this struggle newsworthy - and perhaps most regretfully of all, the women that will come to enjoy the fruits of their predecessors will be unaware of the efforts undertook to claim their right to equality.
It is truly a shame that this victory will not be more widely celebrated - for it strikes at the heart of another battle which is developing today and will have devastating repercussions into the future.
An initial effort to resist the inclusion of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act in the last Federal Budget by all opposition parties seems to have been forgotten and the legislation was enacted in February of this year.
The Act has eliminated the option for women to file pay equity complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, instead, making pay equity a responsibility of collective bargaining between unions and employers. If employees have had their pay equity rights violated, they may lodge a complaint with the Public Service Labour Relations Board, a tribunal responsible for settling collective bargaining disputes for the federal public service. For non-unionized employees the options are even more restricting.
The consequences of this retrogressive legislation are twofold: it removes pay equity from being recognized as a right and a violation of such being viewed as discrimination, as well as, eliminating the support which the Human Rights Commission offers disenfranchised complainants. The two factors combine to provide substantial erosion to the protection and promotion of equality rights within Canada.
May 25th, 2009, was a good day for 413 federally employed nurses spread across Canada, a day when dignity was restored.
The AHRC applauds your efforts in reclaiming your right to equality and hopes your fortitude will be passed on as an example for others facing discrimination and oppression.
Thank you for reading this story…
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