This Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap. Women have had the legal right to equal pay for nearly 40 years, but there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality in the workplace. The Government’s focus is on driving the necessary culture change in business, in particular through improving transparency.
Forty-three years on from Barbara Castle’s landmark Equal Pay Act 1970, will the right hon. Lady be pleased to be remembered as the Minister who brought in a fee of £1,200 for a pregnant sacked woman to take a case to an employment tribunal on grounds of discrimination and her right to equal pay?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady continues to follow this line of questioning, as she is at risk of scaremongering with her reference to the £1,200. She will know that the vast majority of individuals who want to bring a tribunal claim will pay a far lower fee and that our remissions scheme will protect those who cannot pay. I hope she will ensure that she is not scaremongering in this regard because pregnant women will want to know the facts about the support available to them.
We will not tackle the gender pay gap until we tackle gender segregation in apprenticeships. May I suggest that the Minister re-examine the conclusions of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in its “Women in the Workplace” report, and introduce a clear target and reporting strategy so that we can tackle that gender gap?
The hon. Lady is right that we want to ensure that more women see apprenticeships as an opportunity to get into different fields, particularly STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—related occupations. We know that the gender pay gap has a significant link to the career choices that women make, and apprenticeships have a good role to play.
Is it not slightly embarrassing for this Government and Labour to be lecturing about equal pay when the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under the previous Government and still today, pays white people more than it pays ethnic minority staff, pays disabled staff less than its non-disabled staff, and pays women less than it pays its male staff?
My hon. Friend is right to ensure that we are transparent about the reality within public organisations, such as that to which he refers. My Department publishes its pay so that everybody can see how it treats individuals, and I am pleased to say that the gender pay gap in my Department has disappeared. I hope that by ensuring that transparency of salary information we will continue to see more Departments in the same position.
The biggest source of the gender pay gap is the difficulty that working women have in finding well-paid employment that is flexible enough to cope with their child care requirements. What more can the Government do to increase flexibility in the workplace?
My hon. Friend is right that, rather than introducing yet more legislation, the Government have been ensuring that we modernise the workplace and that in doing so we modernise the culture around flexible working in particular. It is a shame that the Labour party in government was unable to put in place flexible working. We have set great store by flexible working for all, and ensuring that everybody, regardless of their care responsibilities, has that option available to them.
The hon. Lady will know that under this Government more women are in work than ever before, that the figures show that salaries are rising, and that we are tackling the long-term issue of the gender pay gap by changing the culture in business. Her party failed to do that by not ensuring that flexible working was available for all. We are making sure that a workplace that was designed by men for men is now designed to accommodate women too.