Equal pay for equal work: New rules arrive today in Ontario

Ontario will ensure part-time, casual and seasonal employees are paid at the same rate as full-time workers though new legislation that comes into effect today, but some Ottawa businesses say there are more important things the province should be worrying about.

Employers must pay part-time, casual workers at same rate as full-time for same work

Ontario's equal pay for equal work legislation comes into effect April 1, part-time, casual and seasonal employees have to be paid the same rate as their full-time colleagues if they perform the same work. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Ontario will ensure part-time, casual and seasonal employees are paid at the same rate as full-time workers through new legislation that comes into effect today, but some Ottawa businesses say there are more important things the province should be worrying about.

The equal pay for equal work protection comes three months after the Liberal government hiked minimum wage to $14 per hour on Jan. 1.

It includes a provision dictating that that all employees who perform the same tasks must be paid the same hourly wage.

The law applies to part-time, casual or seasonal employees who have the same responsibilities of full-time workers.

'There are still gender issues'

Although it is illegal to pay a different wage based on a person's gender, the province believes that the gender wage gap exists because some women are being put into positions where they are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. 

"What we've seen is that, sadly, there are still gender issues, equality [issues], where the women are making less than [men are]," said Marie-France Lalonde, the Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Orléans.

Ottawa-Orléans MPP Marie-France Lalonde says the government's two-year review of labour relations found discrepancies in pay based on gender in certain business sectors — although she wouldn't say which ones. (CBC)

Lalonde said the changes come after a two-year review of labour relations that showed gender-based pay gaps.

"In certain sectors, what we've seen is that part-time employees — primarily women and new Canadians — were being asked to do the exact same work as a full-time employee but being paid minimum wage," Lalonde said.

Lalonde did not say which business sectors had the greatest wage discrepancies.

According to data from Statistics Canada, in 2015, Canadian women earned 87 cents an hour for every dollar earned by men.

There are some exceptions to the law. The changes don't apply if an employer proves the wage gap is due to seniority or merit. Students younger than 18 who work fewer than 28 hours a week are also exempt from the new rules.

Some small business owners not worried

Mike Steinberg, owner of the Herb and Spice on Wellington Street West, doesn't believe the new rules will change much at his grocery store.

Steinberg said he pays wages based on his employees' merit and their level of responsibility, and doesn't anticipate any complaints.

The store has nine part-time and eight full-time workers, he said, and his top earner is paid based on the fact they're responsible for ordering and pricing most of the products.

Steinberg said he's weathering what he calls a "perfect storm," with national and multinational chains squeezing out small businesses, and suggested the province had more important things to focus on.

"Our hydro rates have tripled or quadrupled in the last five to seven years. Property taxes have tripled or quadrupled in the same amount of time and of course, all the news about the minimum wage," he said.

"Right now, the squeeze is on with small, family-run businesses."

Mike Steinberg, owner of the Herb and Spice on Wellington Street West, said he already pays his employees based on merit and responsibilities rather than gender. (CBC)

Employees 'the most important asset'

Henry Assad, the owner and president of Ottawa's Happy Goat Coffee Company, also said the new rules likely wouldn't affect his operations.

"We've been paying our [employees] equally," said Assad, noting the main pay differences within his company are based on seniority and level of responsibility.

"Whether they're female or male really is irrelevant to us, as long as they're doing the same work."

Assad said utilities and taxes are a concern, but they're not something he feels he can fight right now. He does have control over his coffee company's payroll — but he said it's not something he wants to cut back on.

The company raised prices slightly after the minimum wage increase came into effect earlier this year, Assad said, to help compensate for wage hikes. 

He also said they would look into any complaints if employees felt they were being paid unfairly.

"[Employees] are the most important asset of our business," Assad said. 

"So, if there's any concerns when it comes to employees who feel they're not paid equally for the same job that they're doing as someone else, we definitely will address it."

With files from Radio-Canada