New Brunswick's Progressive Conservatives now say it may be time for legislation to impose pay equity on the private sector, shifting from the position they held when in government.

The Tories had favoured a voluntary approach for private employers when they were in office, but that altered when the Liberal government introduced legislation on Friday for pay equity in the public sector.

The Liberal government's legislation will set up a pay equity bureau that will provide oversight to ensure the policy, which comes into force on April 1, 2010, is being enforced.

While the proposed Liberal bill covers the public sector, Tory MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney, who served as a labour minister and status of women minister in the Bernard Lord government, said she no longer feels as reluctant as she once did about legislating pay equity in the private sector.

When she was minister, she gave the private sector five years, which ends in 2010, to move towards pay equity.

"If there wasn't a demonstrable difference in the reduction of the wage gap, the pay gap, then we would have to look at legislating the private sector. We have not seen a demonstrable difference in the pay gap."

Liberals remain coy on private sector pay equity

Social Development Minister Mary Schryer remained coy when she was asked about legislation to cover the private sector.

"[Friday is] about the legislation we brought forward, but what I'm going to tell you is stay tuned until next week, because we're not done," Schryer said.

Schryer's bill will lead to a review of the classifications of positions traditionally held by women as the province structures its pay equity policy.

Schryer wouldn't say how much time or money it will take to do that.

A report released by Schryer June 2008 indicated the wage gap between men and women in New Brunswick increased in 2007 despite government efforts to reduce it.

The gap increased from 12 per cent in 2006 to 12.6 per cent last year. She said the increase was due to employment and wage increases in the construction industry, which is traditionally male-dominated.