In 2001, the Quebec Government passed the Pay Equity Act, which aimed to remedy sex-based wage disparities by compensating female workers. In order to abide by the legislation, McGill University implemented a pay equity program in 2001. In the years since the program was initiated, McGill has undergone negotiations with unions such as the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) and Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE) regarding the method of calculation used to determine how much back-pay was owed to female employees.
The Quebec Pay Equity Act specifically redresses wage discrimination between female- and male-dominated job classes, and applies to all public and private sector employers that have 10 or more employees. A class is considered to be dominated by one sex if 60 per cent or more workers comprise of that sex. For example, at McGill, research technicians, library assistants and clerical positions are all female-dominated job classes.
“There are two types of pay equity,” explained Sean Cory, president of AMURE. “One is between jobs—it’s the idea that a female-dominated job [is] paid an equivalent wage to [a job that is] male-dominated. There’s another type of pay equity called internal pay equity [….] You want to make sure that within that job, women are not paid less than men by some measurable criteria. The [Quebec] Pay Equity Act is the first situation, where they compare the two different kinds of jobs.”
Responses provided by the McGill administration highlighted the complexity and the scope of the program.
“Pay equity is about categories of employment and their demographic composition,” they said. “Considering entire categories rather than individuals is actually very complicated. In essence, everyone agrees that two equally qualified people doing exactly the same work must be paid equivalently, but how does one determine if two types of jobs should have the same value?”
According to MUNACA VP Finance, David Kalant, in 2014, the union contested the pro-rata calculations that were used to calculate the salary adjustments that were agreed upon in 2012.
“[MUNACA] initially negotiated an agreement in 2012, which was signed in 2013,” Kalant said. “[McGill] had to then start doing the payments, and they had up until February 2014 to do them [….] It was apparent [in 2014] that a lot of people that should have received something didn’t. It was a pro-rata calculation that [McGill] had done wrong, so we went over that and [McGill] agreed that they had missed these people and that they should receive a retroactive payment.”
“All the pay equity determinations are based on the maximum of the pay scale for any job,” Kalant explained. “So to maintain the relative steps below maximum, you do a pro-rata calculation to see what people who are below the maximum should be at, based on the change of the maximum.”
To illustrate, Kalant said that pathology technicians received a 4.7 per cent increase in their salary scale as a result of the 2014 negotiations that re-calculated the 2012 agreement, raising the maximum of their pay scale from $30.27 per hour to $31.68 per hour.
The administration elaborated on the error.
“All pay equity methodologies are cumbersome and most adjustments require some fairly tedious computations, including but not limited to time spent in a specific category of employment,” they said. “Treatment of such differences is open to interpretation as well as calculation. An error was made, it was identified, and it was corrected.”
The administration further explained the process that was used to determine the amount of compensation of employees across the university.
“McGill benchmarks with other universities and similar organizations, and we undertake detailed market analysis to ensure comparable, fair, and equitable compensation based on similar positions across our organizations,” they said.
According to a pay equity update letter published by McGill Human Resources, collective agreements also influenced the 2014 calculations.
“Shortly thereafter, MUNACA questioned how those payments were computed for MUNACA members, considering the interaction of pay equity requirements versus the rules of prior MUNACA collective agreements.” the letter reads.
During negotiations with McGill, AMURE challenged McGill’s calculations for the salary adjustments that were calculated as a result of the five-year audits on the salaries that are mandated under the Pay Equity Act.
“Every five years, the employer has to make sure that the positions haven’t drifted apart—that the female-dominated positions are still on par with the male-dominated ones,” Cory said. “We’re close to an agreement with McGill regarding the 2001 and 2005 [salary] adjustments.”
AMURE employees who have worked for McGill since 2001 were paid a 12.2 per cent retroactive raise. AMURE is currently in negotiations with McGill regarding the raises for employees hired after 2005.
“The 2005 adjustments will push [the 2001 adjustments] a little higher; it’ll be by a couple of percent,” Cory said.
Cory continued to highlight the importance of uniform pay equity within job classes at McGill.
“McGill has to look at all their employees equally—it causes problems when they give certain employee groups more raises,” he said. “For example, if professors get [a certain percentage raise] and research assistants don’t, it causes all sorts of problems because professors are male dominated and research assistants are female dominated.”
According to a response provided by McGill administration, general calculations for the McGill-wide implementation of the pay equity program payments are ongoing.
“Both the director of the Office of the Budget and the assistant vice-principal (Financial Services) are continuing their work with Human Resources in analyzing, estimating, and providing input into the likely costs of the upcoming rounds of the pay equity exercise,” the administration said.