TORONTO – Ontario has quietly stalled the implementation of legislation that aimed to increase pay transparency in the province, prompting some critics to suggest the government is looking for savings at the expense of women.
In a fiscal update presented last week, the Progressive Conservative government says the legislation, which was set to take effect Jan. 1, will now kick in on a day to be proclaimed by the lieutenant governor.
When asked about the decision Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the minister of labour said the government is committed to the principles of gender pay equity and postponed the implementation of the law in order to conduct consultations.
“The previous Liberal government committed to consulting on the details of the Pay Transparency Act, prior to implementation. However, they never fulfilled that consultation,” Christine Bujold said in an email.
The ministry wasn’t able to hold consultations on the law earlier because it was tied up with back-to-work legislation for striking York University staff and labour reform legislation, Bujold said.
The pay transparency law was passed just before the spring election by the previous Liberal regime, which said it aimed to tackle wage inequality between men and women. The province said at the time that the wage gap between women and men ranged between 12 per cent to 29 per cent depending on the workplace.
The legislation requires all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bars employers from asking about past compensation and prohibits reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.
It also creates a system that requires large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and share the information with the province. Companies could face fines if they do not comply.
Under the law, the public service will be the first to apply the measures, followed by employers with more than 500 employees, then those with more than 250 workers.
Some critics have said the measures do not go far enough and apply to too few workplaces to be effective, but are a step in the right direction.
Delaying the law’s implementation indefinitely “sends a signal throughout the public service that this government has no interest in making sure that women are paid equal wages,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday.
“They think that if they don’t address this wage gap then it will save money. So what they’re doing is they’re saving money on the backs of women workers,” she said.
Liberal legislator Nathalie Des Rosiers, whose party brought in the law when it was in power, said the move gives the governing Progressive Conservatives time to alter the legislation, which she called a worrying prospect.
She suggested it may be intended to appease the business community, some of whom she recalled had denounced the law as “another bureaucratic burden.”
But she said the changes mandated by the law are an acceptable trade-off for what it aims to achieve.
“To the extent that there’s a small bureaucratic burden in terms of explaining why you’re not paying women the same as men, it’s well worth it,” she said.
Des Rosiers further said the government should be more transparent about putting the measures on hold.
A union representing more than 14,000 Ontario public servants said that while the law has flaws, it was about to help narrow the wage gap.
“Incredibly, in 2018, despite the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of 14 grounds, one of which is sex (including gender identity), we still find ourselves in a society where pay equity is not a guarantee,” Dave Bulmer, president of AMAPCEO, said in a statement.
“(The law’s) indefinite postponement is frustrating as it only serves to further delay progress on equal pay for equal work.”