Premier Kathleen Wynne's new pay transparency bill slammed as 'timid'

New legislation unveiled on Tuesday that aims to close the wage gap between men and women would only cover a 'tiny proportion' of the labour market, says the Equal Pay Coalition.

Equal Pay Coalition co-chair says new legislation only covers ‘tiny proportion’ of the labour market

'I’m disappointed in that it’s a missed opportunity,' says lawyer Fay Faraday of the new legislation. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Women who have spent years advocating to close the pay gap between male and female workers say that a new piece of legislation unveiled by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday doesn't go far enough.

If passed, the legislation would eventually require all employers with 250 workers or more to come clean with their employees and with the province about how much they pay, along with a number of other measures designed to close the wage gap between women and men. 

But Fay Faraday, a lawyer who co-chairs the Equal Pay Coalition, says the bill will only apply to a "tiny proportion of the labour market" and leave the rest of female workers in the dark about how much their male counterparts are earning.

"Here in Ontario, the government's own statistics show that as of December 2015, 98 per cent of employers in Ontario have 49 or less employees," she told CBC Toronto, calling the bill a "timid approach" to a thorny issue.

'We know that too many women still face systemic barriers to economic advancement,' Wynne said in a statement on Tuesday before announcing the new bill. 'It's time for change.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

She said she wants to see all employers with 10 or more employees included in the new rules

Compounded by the number of women who work part-time and in traditionally "female" fields that are poorly remunerated, women earn about 30 per cent less than men, according to the province — a gap that has remained stagnant for the last decade.  

'It feels very unfair'

As a temp who did general labour in smaller factories and warehouses in the GTA, Navi Aujla spent years in workplaces that wouldn't be required to follow the new transparency rules.

She said during that time, she never knew if she was earning anything close to what her male co-workers were.

"Not knowing is very disheartening and it feels very unfair," she said. "It was a common practice not to talk about [wages]. People were getting paid all sorts of different rates."

Navi Aujla would like to see smaller workplaces - like the factories she spent years working in - included in the new legislation. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

At present, non-unionized workers can be "disciplined or even terminated" for talking about their pay, said Faraday —something the new bill would prohibit.  

Aujla, who now works as an organizer at the Worker's Action Centre, called the bill a "step in the right direction" but said she would like to see the legislation extend to "all workplaces."  

Leaving out marginalized women?

Beyond the sheer number of women who are employed at smaller workplaces, including smaller workplaces also matters because of the kind of women who work there, said Colette Prevost, director of advocacy and communications at YWCA Toronto.

Women who are Indigenous, racialized, or new to Canada tend to work in smaller businesses, as do women in smaller communities with less employment options, she said.  

"They're working in retail, they're working in restaurants, they're working in the social service sector," said Prevost.

Faraday also points out that Indigenous, racialized, and disabled women face even steeper wage gaps with men. In the case of Indigenous women, the pay gap is 57 per cent, she said. 

"[The pay gap] is something that's compounded by all other forms of systemic discrimination in our society," said Faraday. 

Employers are already legally required to deliver non-discriminatory pay and have been for decades, she pointed out, arguing that any employer of any size should be able to prove that they pay based on experience and ability, not gender. 

"Time's up, employers. You've had five decades to get your house in order. Prove that you're compliant with the law," she said.