When Manitoba introduced a pay equity program for its civil service

The problem was clear: Female civil servants were being paid less than their male counterparts for comparable work.

That’s why Manitoba’s provincial government acted to address that pay gap more than three decades ago.

“Manitoba introduced the country’s first pay-equity program today,” the CBC’s Knowlton Nash told viewers of The National on Sept. 30, 1987.

“Women who work for the provincial civil service are now entitled to equal pay for work of equal value.”

4,900 changes to pay stubs

Women working in Manitoba’s civil service welcomed government efforts to address the pay gap that existed between women and men. (The National/CBC Archives)

Reporter Jane Chalmers said that meant 4,900 women were getting a raise.

“It took two years of study, two years of comparing jobs held by women to those dominated by men,” Chalmers said.

“The conclusion: Women performing similar jobs to men are paid 20 per cent less.”

The program meant the government would raise the salaries of those women by up to $3.25 an hour.

Same pay for the same work

Mickee Makar, a computer operator, was among the women whose salaries would be raised as part of a pay equity program the Manitoba government introduced for its civil service in 1987. (The National/CBC Archives)

Mickee Makar, a computer operator for the civil service, was among the women whose salaries would be adjusted. Hers was to jump $2 an hour over a four-year period.

“If I’m doing the same kind of job as a man was doing, there’s no reason I shouldn’t get the same kind of pay,” she told CBC News.

Eugene Kostyra, a provincial cabinet minister, said the action by the government was intended to bring about “an end to gender pay discrimination in the civil service.”

Chalmers said the provincial government would spend $16 million over a four-year period to adjust those salary discrepancies.

Steep pay gap in the private sector, too

Jane Chalmers reported that Manitoba’s Crown corporations, universities and hospitals were expected to follow the civil service in implementing pay equity programs. (The National/CBC Archives)

Crown corporations, universities and hospitals were due to implement pay-equity programs next, according to Chalmers.

After that would come efforts to address the same issues in private industry.

Muriel Smith, the provincial labour minister, said the government was prepared to use legislation to make those changes happen in the private sector.

Giving viewers a clearer sense of the government’s thinking, Chalmers said it sought to target what was effectively “a pink-collared ghetto” that saw women working in clerical and sales positions making one-third less than what their male counterparts were paid.

An unknown price tag

In 1987, Darlene Hildebrand of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce believed some jobs could disappear if the provincial government pushed for pay equity in the private sector. (The National/CBC Archives)

It was unclear how much it would cost the private sector to implement those changes.

“We simply may see some jobs disappear, or full-time jobs that now have benefits with them may go to contract positions,” said Darlene Hildebrand of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Roberta Ellis-Grunfeld of the Pay Equity Commission did not think that would necessarily be the case.

“If you approach in the manner that we have which is flexible, orderly — I don’t believe that business has anything to fear,” she told CBC News.

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