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Gender Equality: Pay

Volume 790: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further action they intend to take to reduce gender inequality in pay.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has made clear that tackling injustices such as the gender pay gap is part of building a country that works for everyone. In 2017 the Government introduced ground-breaking regulations requiring large employers to publish the differences between what they pay their male and female staff in average salaries and bonuses. Greater transparency will help to identify barriers to achieving gender equality in the workplace so that employers can take action to address them.

I welcome the Minister’s reference to greater transparency. Is it not time to be bold on this issue? If we are really going to tackle such inequalities as the gender pay gap, should we not do what is done in some Scandinavian countries and put all income tax returns into the public domain?

My Lords, certainly Norway has done this. The unintended consequence of doing so was that it was seen as a snooper’s charter, a way for people to snoop into the information of people that they did not like. I think publishing the gender pay gap will give employees a greater sense of the company that they are going to work for and whether there is gender equality across pay, as opposed to a huge database that cannot have the granular detail that the gender pay gap reporting will have but can perhaps be used with other intent from how it was designed.

My Lords, transparency is of course very important, and the reporting of gender pay gaps by organisations and companies is going to be valuable. However, what comes after that? Once we know the disparity between pay in these organisations, when can we expect the gender pay gap to be closed, and when can women expect to reach pay parity with men once we know what the problem is?

The noble Baroness asks an interesting question about what comes next. What will come next is that this will shine a light on which companies take their gender pay obligations seriously and which simply do not. If I were a graduate going to a company with a huge gender pay gap, I would start to think about what that company would mean for me as a woman. I think it will draw into sharp focus those companies that take their obligations seriously and shame those companies and public sector organisations that do not.

Will my noble friend undertake to look into the position at the BBC, where sick pay and maternity leave are being eradicated by the move to freelance contracts? Is that right? Surely employers should not be able to sidestep their employer obligations in such a radical fashion.

I think what my noble friend refers to with sick pay—I am going slightly beyond my brief here—is the practice whereby people are not employees but freelance, more often than not, for companies. Given the press reporting that there has been on this, I am sure that this issue will be drawn into sharp focus.

My Lords, what does the noble Baroness think needs to be done on legislation on other matters to deal with this issue? The Equal Pay Act came on to the statute book 47 years ago. The gender pay gap is 14.1% and there is little evidence to suggest that it will close. I note what she said about shining some light on these issues, but I am conscious that with the statements under the Modern Slavery Act, many companies had a light shone on their activities but have done very little about the issue.

My Lords, the full-time gender pay gap is 9.1%; I would like it to be nought. The noble Lord talks about the Equal Pay Act. Yes, it has been on the statute book for decades now— 47 years. I recall as leader of a council that many councils at the time had to sort out the issue of women doing the same jobs for less money than men. I think most local authorities have got to grips with that and, as I say, I look forward to the day when the gender pay gap is nought.

My Lords, where does the Minister suggest that we look for the next steps and action to be taken in those areas where equal pay still does not exist? Returning to our backyard, the public service—she just mentioned local government—is it not true that there are still significant elements of unequal pay within the Civil Service, the public service and local government? This is an area where we have control. What do the Government intend to do there?

I am almost certain that most local authorities will have settled equal pay claims with their employees—mine certainly did. On what more is there to do on equal pay, if women think that they are not being paid the same as men for the same job, they are perfectly entitled to—and should—bring claims forward.

My Lords, when I joined the Civil Service in 1959 as a clerical officer, we had equal pay, and I was horrified to read that this no longer persists in Whitehall. Can the Minister explain why, given that the Act came in in 1970, Her Majesty’s Government and previous Governments have not done something about it?

As I explained, Her Majesty’s Government have done something about it and encourage people who feel that they have equal pay claims to come forward. That certainly happens at local authority level, and in the Civil Service, we are looking closely at and continue to monitor people whose pay is not equal across the sexes.

My Lords, there are regional variations in gender pay, with London women in particular earning about £15,000 less than men. What action will the Government take once the audit is issued in April to ensure that those variations are reduced?

My Lords, we are encouraged by the number of companies that have so far registered for gender pay gap data: 90% in the public sector and 70% in the private sector. There are remedies if companies have not complied. If London is seen to have a particular problem then that will be thrown into focus when the figures are published.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issue is not so much about the difference at the individual job level as about the fact that, relatively speaking, so few women get to senior positions in those organisations? That is where we need to put the main emphasis, to help women to be confident enough, and to be mentored and supported to get into the most senior positions in those organisations.

I totally agree with the noble Lord, which is why the Government—through Women on Boards, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch—have managed to increase the proportion of women on boards of the FTSE 100 from just over 10%, which was pitiful, to 28% now. I am pleased to report that there are no FTSE 100 boards without female representation. Of course, we have much further to go. We need BME representation on boards, and women need to see role models that encourage them to go for jobs for which they are capable and to get to the top if they can.