A win for equal pay more than 10 years in the making

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of workers in a precedent-setting case about the method employers must use to maintain proxy pay equity for their predominantly female workforce.

The dispute arises from a group of nursing homes, referred to as the “Participating Nursing Homes.” The case was brought by the Ontario Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union, who each argued that the homes have failed to maintain pay equity after it was initially achieved in 2005. Unifor, together with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, supported the Equal Pay Coalition’s intervention in the case in support of the unions.

“We often say that union membership is the strongest way to ensure pay equity. Nursing home workers’ victory in this case show that even when it takes a little more work, your union is still your best advocate in this fight for fairness,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

The crux of the dispute was how to maintain pay equity for workforces that were 95% women, like nursing homes.

This case was first heard by the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal, which ruled against the unions in 2016. That decision was overturned by the Ontario Divisional Court on appeal. Now the Court of Appeal upheld the Divisional Court’s decision, ruling in favour of workers and their unions.

“Nursing home workers are not only majority women, but they are often immigrant women, and racialized workers. This win is a vital ruling in order to continue our fight for pay equity across these intersections,” said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director.

Equal Pay Day in Ontario is April 7, 2021. That day will mark how far into the year the average women must work in order to earn what the average man earned in the previous year.

The nursing homes that argued against maintaining equal pay were advocating for letting women workers fall further behind in their pay. Initially, the homes denied that they had any obligation to maintain pay equity at all.

This decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal sets a precedent that will push even more women-dominated workplaces towards equity, by mandating that substantive pay equity is maintained through comparison to male work and wages.

Workers in Ontario’s nursing homes have long raised the alarm about low pay and dangerous working conditions.

“Ontario’s nursing homes should be a safe place to live and work, but this past year has revealed that the opposite is true,” continued Dias. “This decade-long refusal to maintain pay equity is a piece of that larger problem, and this win is part of the solution.”

Unifor is returning to the bargaining table with nursing homes across Ontario beginning in the fall of 2021 and into 2022 as various collective agreements reach expiry.