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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne leaves a news conference at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto on Jan. 25, 2018.

Frank Gunn

It's time to put an end to wage inequality between women and men, Ontario's premier said Tuesday, as she announced legislation that aims to increase pay transparency in the province.

Kathleen Wynne, whose Liberals have been championing fairness as they bid for re-election this spring, said action was needed on the issue.

"We've got to pay attention to the reality of women's lives," she said while detailing legislation that was to be introduced Tuesday afternoon. "They still are not paid the same as men are paid. They still, at a very young age, have their horizons limited. We have got to stop doing that to them."

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The wage gap between women and men in Ontario, Wynne said, ranges anywhere between 12 per cent to 29 per cent depending on the workplace.

If passed, the government's bill would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation.

It would also create a framework that would require large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and disclose the information to the province. If a company does not comply with the measures, it could face fines, Wynne said.

"Right now in workplaces there is resentment and hostility because information is not shared," she said. "There's suspicion about who is paid what. This policy is targeted exactly at that. I believe that people can deal with real information."

The pay transparency measures will begin with the Ontario public service before applying to employers with more than 500 employees. It will later extend to those with more than 250 workers.

The proposed legislation is part of the government's strategy for women's economic empowerment, which includes up to $50-million in funding over three years.

It is in line with other measures from Wynne's Liberals that have been centred on fairness and opportunity, such as the province's increase to minimum wage and expansion of drug coverage for people under age 25.

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"The phrase I always use is that government exists to do the things that people can't do by themselves," Wynne said. "It is quite clear that individual women are not able to make these changes themselves."

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the government has looked to other jurisdictions for the basis of its pay transparency legislation, including existing laws in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

"We're trying to learn as much as we can from the process that's been employed in other jurisdictions," he said. "They obviously targeted the larger companies first and went to the medium-sized after that."

Flynn said other jurisdictions have been able to cut their wage gap to half of Ontario's levels in a short time using such an approach. For example, Iceland's wage gap currently ranges from 6 to 18 per cent, according to the Ministry of Labour.

"We figure we can move that quickly and that far within a period of three or four years," he said. "We'll be making progress that simply hasn't been made to date."

Fay Faraday, co-chair of the Fair Pay Coalition, which has been advocating for pay transparency, said the measures announced Tuesday were "timid" and applied to too few workplaces to be effective.

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Faraday said employers have had the legal obligation since the 1960s to pay non-discriminatory wages but "wide-spread non-compliance" with the laws has been allowed to exist because employees must come forward with complaints.

The legislation should be changed to ensure all employers, not just large companies, must prove to the government they're paying fair wages to workers, she said.

"They've had five decades to get their wage structure in order to eliminate discrimination and time's up," Faraday said.

New Democrat Cindy Forster called the bill an attempt to shore up votes ahead of the election.

"The Liberal government has failed around pay gender issues for many, many years," she said. "What I understand from just a first glance at the legislation on pay transparency is that it is a weak piece of legislation that isn't really going to address the concerns for women."

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