Injustice or sour grapes?

Let me begin with the sour grapes, you can be the judge if I ever expand beyond them. In addition to my usual laziness and carelessness, some detail will be lacking in this post due to me having signed a privacy agreement with my employer regarding some details of my job.

Hello OperatorAfter avoiding employment for far too long, I recently began a job in the operator services department of one of Canada’s major communications companies. It is a horribly monotonous job that I perform for relatively low pay. Making matters worse, those working in the adjacent room to mine make more money, get pay increases more frequently, and receive their schedules with one week extra notice.

What is the difference between what they do and what I do? The difference is that nearly all calls coming into my department originate from other communications companies across North America who have contracted my employer to handle their operator services. Down the hall, the operators answer calls originating from my employer’s customers. My department was created to offset the declining revenues post long distance service deregulation due to the resulting increased competition. My department is a now a major source of revenue, and is steadily growing. The department down the hall is a money loser, and shrinking.

In discussions with my trainer and my manager, the corporate position on the pay difference was made clear: in order for my department to remain competitive, wages must be kept this low. The conditions I’ve described are enshrined in the collective bargaining agreement.

Is what I described a violation of the principles of pay equity?

In my opinion it is.

While pay equity was once, and in some circles remains, an issue of gender based inequality, progressive circles have abandoned gender as a qualifying issue. As such, an appropriate definition of pay equity would insist that any person performing work of equal value, under similar working conditions, with similar training and levels of performance should be receiving equal pay. Despite this, the Canadian Human Rights Act continues to use an antiquated version of pay equity, although documents as early as the UN Declaration on Human Rights of 1948 proclaimed that “everyone..has the right to equal pay for equal work.” I would hope that the employment of men and women in both of the departments I described would not be sufficient to ignore the higher principle.

The Canadian HRA assesses ‘equal value’ as follows: “in assessing the value of work employed by employees of the same establishment, the criterion to be applied is the composite of the skill, effort and responsibility required in the performance of the work and the conditions under which the work is performed.” In the departments I described, new employees begin with similar levels of training and responsibility. The working conditions are similar in the eyes of the employee (similar computers, length of shifts, chairs, and basic job description). Does the fact that my department must compete in the market place constitute a different set of conditions? Again, I would hope not. This provision may appropriately apply to an employer’s decision to pay employees a higher salary for working in dangerous conditions, but not to pay employees less after establishing a new department for the purposes of paying one group of employees a lower salary.

I look forward to hearing what the other contributors think about my situation and the nature of pay equity before I decide to what extent I would like to stir the pot at work. Injustice, or sour grapes?

~ Manatee



  1. Gnomes said,

    Monday, 11 September 2006 at 12:06 am

    I think your problem is specific enough that what you need is the advice of a labour law lawyer. He or she would be able to tell you whether your employer is likely to have justifiable grounds for treating the two departments differently.

    Are the employees hired for the other department scrutinized more carefully, or required to have more experience? Do they have to meet higher standards in customer service?

  2. Manatee said,

    Monday, 11 September 2006 at 12:29 am

    I’m under the impression that the answer to your questions is no. In fact, our department very recently began recieving some of the customer calls, and it is my impression more may be on the way.

    Since posting I’ve been reading more about the differences between pay equity based on gender inequality, equal pay for equal work, and equal pay for equal value. I wonder if I’m missing something because I really feel the appropriate standard should not require a gender basis and that situations of equal work and equal value should both fit easily under one just standard for which examples involving a gender bias are simply the most obvious and historically prevalent.

  3. O'Smiley said,

    Monday, 11 September 2006 at 11:59 am

    If you are looking to stir the pot, I think your best bet is to follow Gnomes advice and contact a lawyer specializing in labour law. Unfortunately, I think that if you have signed the collective bargaining agreement which you described above, your chances are slim for success. The agreement may have noted that competition is a condition of your department that sets it aside from the other, warranting the different pay structure. In signing that agreement, your agreement may have been implied.

    Now don’t get me wrong by my bleak reply above, I definitely don’t agree with what is happening and completely agree with your assessment of the situation. You should receive equal pay for equal work. I think that if you are willing, you should pursue rectification of this situation, as advised by Gnomes, whether you signed the collective bargaining agreement or not.

  4. Gnomes said,

    Monday, 11 September 2006 at 12:41 pm

    In signing that agreement, your agreement may have been implied.

    I don’t think agreement to the conditions of work would stand in the way of seeking redress. Otherwise, no employee would ever be able to seek redress for unequal pay.  You generally can’t sign away rights like that.

    Practically speaking, I would imagine that all that might be accomplished by any genuinely significant pot-stirring would be to hasten the demise of the old department, which sounds like it is being phased out.

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