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For-profit homes, province continue to oppose pay equity for long-term care nurses, association says

Nurses angry that court battle over pay equity might be continued in a higher court as province and long-term care homes dispute pay-maintenance provisions in earlier court decision
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Ontario nurses are angry that the Ontario government, together with for-profit long-term care homes, have launched a court appeal that might deny pay equity maintenance to long-term care home registered nurses and other health-care professionals.

The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) is speaking out and upset that the Ontario government and for-profit long-term care homes have appealed a recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal and have filed the appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada in an effort to deny pay equity maintenance to long-term care home registered nurses and health-care professionals.

ONA president Vicki McKenna, RN, said the move is a slap in the face by government and long-term care nursing home companies that have chosen to appeal an earlier court decision that allowed for pay equity based on using the comparator method by choosing a male occupation to provide comparable wages for a female-dominated occupation such as nursing.  

Under the Pay Equity Act, "Three different methods of comparison are used. Each involves a comparison between male and female job classes. In predominantly female workplaces, like the nursing homes in question, there are no male job classes with which female job classes can be directly compared. For women in these workplaces, the Act provides a ‘proxy’ method whereby a female job class, from an establishment where pay equity has already been achieved using a male comparator, is deemed to be the male job class," said the legal overview from the Ontario courts website.

What is in dispute is whether the proxy method is to be used in ensuring that pay equity is maintained. The appellants, the Participating Nursing Homes (PNH) and the Attorney General of Ontario (AGO), submit that the proxy method is only to be used to establish pay equity, not to maintain it, said the legal overview. 

The respondents in the case, the ONA and the Service Employees International Union, Local 1 (SEIU), disagree on the pay equity maintenance issue, saying it must be continued. McKenna characterized the decision to appeal as greedy.   

"The courts have been clear: the fundamental purpose of the Pay Equity Act is to redress systemic discrimination in compensation," she said. "To do so, there must be an ongoing comparison between male and female job classes. Yet for 15 years, government and the long-term care for-profits have fought pay equity maintenance. The government and these greedy for-profits appealed the latest decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal on May 9, the eve of Nursing Week", said McKenna. 

She said the ONA has been urging the province and for-profit nursing homes to end their battle against female-dominated health-care professionals. McKenna has also been pushing the government and the nursing homes to respect fundamental human rights – especially during a time when a global pandemic has taken such a terrible toll on these care providers, said the ONA release. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted nurses and health-care workers in these for-profit homes," said McKenna. 

"We hear the Ford government hail these women as heroes publicly, but behind the scenes, the government joined the homes in fighting ONA – and our colleagues at SEIU Healthcare – in trying to prevent them from accessing equal pay for work of equal value."

ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.