Parliament buildings on a sunny day

Legislation meant to help close the gender wage gap will come into effect on Aug. 31 and be phased in over the next three years, the federal government said Wednesday.

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said in a livestreamed talk that the Pay Equity Act will not just address gaps between what men and women in the same job make, but also examine issues in woman-dominated sectors.

Jobs involving care, social service and customer service work are often filled by women who are typically undervalued and underpaid and the disparities between their compensation and men’s have become even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tassi said.

“We are challenging deeply embedded norms that have evolved in the workforce about how we value work that is being done by women,” she said.

“Although the global pandemic has not helped us speed things up, it sure has shone a light on this issue and demonstrated the importance of moving forward and moving forward now.”

The act requires federally regulated employers to ensure workers receive equal pay for work of equal value and is meant to address Statistics Canada’s latest data that shows for every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns 89 cents.

Once the act comes into effect, employers with 10 or more staff will have three years to develop and implement proactive pay equity plans.

The plan must involve studying whether work done primarily by women receives pay equal to work done by men, making adjustments to ensure there is wage equity and posting plans for staff to see by August 2024.

Pay equity commissioner Karen Jensen will be able to levy $30,000 fines for employers with up to 99 staff that don’t comply and $50,000 fines for those with larger workforces.

The Pay Equity Act received royal assent in December 2018, but the timeline for its launch was not made public until Wednesday.

Lindsay Mathyssen, the NDP critic for women and gender equity, was pleased with the announcement, but said it comes “far too late.”

“Women have been facing inequality in the workplace for decades,” she said in a statement.

“The she-cession of the past sixteen months has only exacerbated and further highlighted this issue.”

As part of the act’s roll out, Ottawa will work with companies to understand how the legislation applies to them.

The legislation will not automatically apply to workplaces operated by Indigenous governing bodies within the federal jurisdiction because the government is still deciding how to adapt the act for them.

It has planned consultations with Indigenous partners for later this year.

Mathyssen said Canadian women have been waiting for equal pay for equal work, since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women called for it 50 years ago.

She was concerned that after Aug. 31, women will still have to wait three more years for the new legislation to be in full effect.