Advocates for pay equity in New Brunswick are meeting today to talk about what kind of law could help close the province's gender pay gap.
Women in New Brunswick who get paid hourly make about seven per cent less than men, according to the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity.
"It's going down slowly so that's good news," said Johanne Perron, the coalition's executive director. "However, when we look at the overall incomes of men and women, the gap is much bigger. It's 30 per cent."
The gap is even larger, she says, when comparing men to Indigenous women, racialized women and immigrant women.
Finding a law that could fix this, is the topic of discussion at a workshop that's happening Monday as part of a joint research project between the coalition and UNB associate law professor Kerri Froc.
Some of the ideas they'll be exploring have just gone into effect in Prince Edward Island.
As of June 1, all employers on P.E.I. who advertise jobs must also advertise how much those jobs pay, or at least provide a range of compensation.
The law also prohibits employers from asking job candidates about their pay history and from penalizing workers who talk about their wages to each other.
Froc says pay transparency laws help job applicants who aren't connected to male-dominated networks.
"You have men who are looking out for each other, telling other men what they can expect for pay, etc."
"Racialized persons, Indigenous persons, and women don't have those kinds of informal networks," Froc said.
"So whenever you have something that's more of a formalized mechanism, the people who are from historically marginalized groups, it puts them on an equal level."
Perron says pay transparency laws help inform workers when something is wrong.
"Women and marginalized groups will know whether their own work is being paid fairly more easily," said Perron. "Sometimes you don't even know."
The virtual workshops have generated more interest than Froc and Perron first anticipated.
They were hoping for about 15 people. Instead, they expect to have 40 participants from all over the province.
They say the workshops will help them develop proposed legislation. As for finding the political will to support such legislation, that would be a separate step.
"The government has made it very clear they don't want to put additional pressure on small business coming out of COVID," said Froc.
"But things like having a no-retaliation law … that should be cost neutral."
P.E.I.'s law says no employer "shall intimidate, dismiss, or otherwise penalize an employee or threaten to do so" because that employee disclosed their pay to another employee.
It also says that a prospective job candidate may not be asked how much they made in previous positions.
Froc says that measure is aimed at preventing inequality and discrimination from being perpetuated as a candidate moves from one job or company to another.
Young people love it
P.E.I.'s Pay Transparency Act was first proposed by opposition Green MLA Trish Altass.
She says it's modelled on legislation that passed in Ontario in 2018 under Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government. However, it has not gone into effect because Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives have not yet proclaimed it.
"It really levels the playing field," said Altass.
"So when it comes to actually negotiating the salary … having that information up front is very helpful," she said.
"Women tend to undervalue their work when they're negotiating pay, so when everybody has the same information as the starting point, it's a step toward closing the gap."
The law is an amendment to P.E.I.'s Employment Standards Act and Altass says it will be enforced by the Employment Standards Branch.
Employees can file complaints with the branch, which are then investigated by inspectors who have the authority to issue corrective orders.
Altass says the bill got lots of support from young workers in the consultation phase.
"We heard from so many young workers who were frustrated by job postings that didn't post a salary range," she said.
"They would go through the entire application process — and that can take a lot of time — only in the end to find out that the salary was not enough to make ends meet, or pay the bills or their student loans, as well as other rising costs."
Altass says young people told her they were no longer applying for jobs that did not post the salary range.
Froc and Perron say they hope to produce a report based on the workshop and other research later this summer.