FREDERICTON – Business groups say government should provide more incentives for women to enter non-traditional trades instead of legislating pay equity in the private sector.

David Plante, provincial vice-president for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said the exercise of comparing various jobs and assigning values to each one is unnecessarily complicated and expensive.

Instead, the provincial government should focus on helping women train to enter higher-paying careers, such as the trades and sciences. The result would not only boost women’s salaries but help fill the province’s skill shortage, he said.

Plante said there are three factors that contribute to pay inequity: systemic discrimination, which is dealt with under the Human Rights Act; family responsibilities; and job clustering, in which women continue to enter traditional jobs.

Plante said studies have shown it can cost roughly $400 per employee for a business to evaluate a job under pay equity.

“Quite frankly, it doesn’t work,” he said.

Pay equity means employees with jobs of equal or comparable value receive the same salary. For example, if two different jobs are deemed to be of equivalent value, taking into consideration working conditions, skills, responsibility and effort, employees would have to be paid the same.

Social Development Minister Mary Schryer tabled legislation on Friday that will see pay equity introduced to the public service by the spring of 2010.

The legislation fulfills a campaign promise made by the Liberals, who also promised to talk with organizations with the “goal of extending pay equity to the private sector through legislation.”

But Premier Shawn Graham said it’s unlikely the provincial government will rush forward with legislation for the private sector. The province is working with child-care workers and home-care workers, as well as their employers, to study pay equity.

Those two services are paid for by government and have traditionally been under-valued, Graham said.

Exactly how the province would implement pay equity in the private sector is still unclear, Graham said, adding government wants any changes to help, not hurt, those industries.

The wage gap increased slightly from 12 per cent in 2006 to 12.6 per cent in 2007. In 2007, the average hourly wage for women was $15.80, compared to $18.07 for men.

Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said legislating pay equity in the private sector would be difficult. “I constantly worry about these kinds of things because, of course, it gets into an exercise of trying to equate two jobs which, simply put, are different and are never going to be able to make equal or to measure against,” he said. “That being said, if the jobs are the same, people should be getting paid the same.”

Cirtwill said legislating pay equity would be a complex, expensive exercise and could lead to more inequalities.

But Margaret-Ann Blaney, Rothesay Progressive Conservative MLA and former cabinet minister responsible for the status of women, said it’s time for government to seriously consider legislating pay equity in the private sector.

When Blaney was in government, she released a five-year plan to reduce the wage gap between men and women. That plan expires next year.

* With files from James Foster.