Oh, the wheels of justice certainly do turn slowly. Over a year ago (May 1st), my union filed a charter challenge against the omnibus budget bill passed in the wake of the 1st prorogation of parliament (Bill C-10). Not only did that bill pass a budget, but it imposed wage controls on the federal service, and fit in a number of other regressive measures. One of those was the removal of the right to pay equity for the federal public sector. Of course, we filed a challenge to that (on the grounds that it violates basic Charter rights) and today I’m finally getting down to the signing of my affadavit in the case (I’m a named affiant). Background can be found in my post Charter Rights and Me.
Reading over the materials I am signing, I am once again reminded of how great an injustice this act was and how few federal politicians from any of the opposition groups got up and spoke against it. In essence, federal government workers are now the only people who don’t have the right to equal pay, and not only that, they don’t even have the basic right to consult with their union on such matters (the union can be fined up to $50,000 for even giving advice to a member on the merits of a pay equity complaint).
As I said in April of 2009, if these attacks on women workers are allowed to stand in one arena (federal) who’s to say that other governments (municipal/provincial) won’t try the same? And who’s to say the union won’t be restricted on other matters through legislation. What if the government decides tomorrow the union can’t counsel its members on harassment complaints? Discrimination? Health and Safety? Affirmative Action? These would all require legislation to change, but without any effective opposition, the Tories could just steam right along and remove everything that’s been gained over the past forty years of federal unionization. Sadly, the effects of such things wouldn’t even be fully realized until the next generation of workers came along, and all the old folks who had enjoyed these rights were retired. What kind of workplaces would we see then?
Recent assertions by the federal government in the affirmative action debacle are that we don’t need to worry about equal opportunities in federal workplaces anymore because 54% of positions are filled by women. What they failed to acknowledge in all their blustering is that women in the federal government tend to be clustered in the lower-waged categories. Clerical and administrative staff mainly, and most of those positions at the low end. If you bring visible minorities, aboriginal, or differently-abled people into the equation, the numbers (if you could get them out of the government) would be even more shocking. As a union steward, I see that within the system where women are already paid less, there seem to be frequent attempts to downgrade the classification of women’s positions where male-dominated categories are continually upgraded in pay. So even without the structural removal of pay equity, employers within the federal context already recognize that the quickest way to the bottomline is to attack women, visible minorities and other “lesser-thans” in the workplace.
Which is shocking, really, in 2010. And given that in the context of the federal government – clerical and administrative work is the backbone of the programs delivered.
But I suppose it shouldn’t be when we look at all the other attacks the Tories have launched on women since they came to power: the removal of funding the women’s programs and organizations, not to mention the court challenges funding. The refusal to support women’s health initiatives abroad which include abortion access as an option. The refrain, spoken outloud by one impolitic senator that women’s groups should just “Shut the fuck up”. After all our foremothers fought for, it’s distressing, to say the least.
But the fight, it obviously isn’t over, and we’ve got challenges to file in court and struggles to march for in the street. Reading my affadavit again today I realize – I’m ready. Are you?