OTTAWA—The Liberal government hasn’t determined how its highly-touted pay equity law will work, with key elements like cost and enforcement still undecided for the plan that was announced as a highlight of the gender-focused 2018 budget, an official told the Star.
Emily Harris, a communications adviser for Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, said Tuesday the government is still figuring out how its upcoming law will ensure people in federally-regulated sectors who perform work of equal value receive equal pay — a major feature of the Liberals’ plan to close the wage gap between men and women in Canada.
“At this time, we are in consultations with stakeholders to help determine some of the final program design features,” Harris said.
This year’s budget, which was unveiled Feb. 27, centred on an argument that empowering women will unlock billions of dollars in future growth for the Canadian economy. One measure to do this, according to the Liberal government, is to narrow the long-standing rift in earnings between male and female workers. The size of the gap depends on how it is measured — the 2018 budget cited how the median income for women is 31 per cent lower than it is for men — though Statistics Canada reported last year that women made 88 cents for every dollar earned by a man, based on average hourly income in 2014.
The government expects Canada’s upcoming pay equity legislation to narrow that gap to 90.7 cents in the federally-regulated private sector. But the 2018 budget does not outline how much it will cost to do this, nor does it explain how new pay equity rules will be enforced in sectors that include the federal public service and private industries like air travel and telecommunications.
In an interview last week, Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef did not provide more details about the upcoming bill, but told the Star consultations with private and public sectors, women’s organizations and a parliamentary committee that studied pay equity will help shape the upcoming legislation. “It will be introduced this year, and of course, with it will come a financial commitment,” she said.
Asked about enforcement, Monsef said the law will need “to have teeth” because “accountability measures are critical to the legislation’s success.” Part of this, she said, is the government’s push for pay transparency, which was also announced in the 2018 budget and involves spending $3 million over the next five years on measures that will include an online portal to display wage information for companies in federally-regulated sectors.
A government official, who spoke to the Star on background, said the government is still considering an array of options for enforcement, including potential fines for companies that fail to enact pay equity schemes. It is also working on how to compare the “value” of different jobs, which will be the basis for equal pay, the official said — for example, whether the value of work done by an assistant mechanic for an airliner should be considered the same as that of a flight attendant.
The official said it’s also too early to say how much the pay equity regime will cost, but a key factor will be the mechanisms for enforcement and oversight.
“It’s really complicated,” the official said. “There’s a lot in flux right now.”
As the government weighs its options, the official said Ottawa is looking to provincial jurisdictions that have already enacted pay equity laws. Ontario’s, for instance, places the onus on employers to ensure they have equal pay for equal work, and includes a Pay Equity Commission that investigates and attempts to settle pay equity complaints.
The prime minister, however, acknowledged during a public Q and A in Toronto last week that pay equity legislation is not a cure-all for the gender wage gap. A 2016 study in the American Review of Canadian Studies found Ontario’s pay equity law — enacted in 1987 — has had a “negligible” effect on the wage gap and ratio of men and women in the workforce, while the gap in Quebec has been reduced since the province’s law was passed in 1996.
“Other factors, like women taking on the majority of care work, gender-based violence, discrimination, lack of representation in fields where there is more pay but women haven’t been active in — like the trades — are also contributors to the wage gap,” Monsef said, pointing out the 2018 budget included measures to bring more women into high-paying trade jobs and give couples with new children an extra five weeks of shared parental leave.
“There’s a great deal of work that needs to be done. The good news is it’s work we’re committed to,” she said.