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House of Lords Hansard
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11 February 2019
Volume 795

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to amend the Equality Act 2010 in relation to equal pay.

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My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to the equal pay protections in the Equality Act 2010 and to the fundamental principle of equal pay for equal work.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. It is disappointing, but not surprising. We were all pleased with the measures taken by the Government last year to require employers of more than 250 people to make public their gender pay gaps. We welcomed that information because it gave us a picture of where the problems lay, but will we simply receive it as though there is nothing more that can be done?

Change will not come about by osmosis. Action will have to be taken. For a start, the law could require companies to break down the data to give us a better picture by age, ethnicity and so forth. Plus, the Government could legislate to require employers to develop positive action programmes—maybe establishing women-only training schemes, for example—or to provide more decent-quality part-time jobs. Will the Minister consider such initiatives as those, which would help to close the gender pay gap and bring the Equal Pay Act into the 21st century?

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My Lords, it is a good idea to say at this point that the gender pay gap and equal pay are two different things, although both may exist in the same organisation. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that work needs to go on to encourage organisations to improve their gender pay gaps where they are wide. The EHRC and the Government are working with organisations that want to improve their situation. This is not something that has just been left on the shelf. The gender pay gap is at its lowest, but we still have further to go.

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My Lords, the Resolution Foundation has estimated that Britain’s 1.6 million black, Asian and minority ethnic employees are losing out to the tune of £3.2 billion a year in wages compared with white colleagues doing the same work. We welcome the consultation that the Prime Minister launched in October to seek views on whether there should be mandatory reporting of ethnic pay gaps at work. We know that the diversity of the workforce is good for business, so does the Minister agree that the time has now come to introduce ethnic and minority pay gap reporting?

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Organisations can indeed do that if they wish, but the noble Baroness raises an important point. Actually, gender pay gap reporting was the first step in what will be a long process. It had never been done before and we wondered before organisations reported what the compliance rate would be. As the noble Baroness will know, it was 100%. It is not that organisations do not want to go further—they do—but she is right that a gender and ethnically diverse workforce makes for a better workforce.

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My Lords, if we really want to have women working in this country and therefore being equal, as a country we need to take childcare seriously. I have been campaigning for this since I was 21—I am obviously way past the need for it now—but we still do not have it. Have the Government ever considered the scheme that Quebec introduced in 1997 whereby universal childcare was subsidised? You paid about 10 quid a day. It was found that very soon the increased revenues from women’s earnings paid for the measure through the taxation system. If we want women to work and to be equal, surely the state must take a role in doing some of women’s work, which is rearing and looking after children.

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I am very interested to hear about Quebec’s scheme, and I thank the noble Baroness for that. This Government introduced 39 hours of free childcare for working parents and have encouraged shared parental leave, which is possibly not as good as it should be. We can certainly learn from other countries, such as Sweden, in that regard.

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My Lords, would the Government consider home-based working as working so that people working at home are recognised and valorised as workers? That would allow a lot of home- based textile workers who are employed by their kin to be entitled to the privileges to which other workers are entitled.

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Home-based working is a very good idea. Certainly organisations see it as beneficial to have some flexibility in the way that their employees work. It is to be encouraged.

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There is a simpler answer to all these inequalities, particularly discrimination against women. I ask the Minister not to dismiss it out of hand, which she has done before. If we put all income tax returns into the public domain, as has been done in some countries in Scandinavia, we would see what incomes are and what tax dodging takes place, and we would then see the real nature of inequality.

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The noble Lord has mentioned this to me before and I have rejected it. The equal pay legislation and the gender pay gap audits that we have asked organisations to undertake are starting to lift the lid on where inequality lies in our workforces.

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My Lords, in April companies will be required for the second time to publish their pay gap data, and I hope we will see some improvement in closing that gap. Does the Minister agree that, for that to be effective, companies should be required to publish action plans and that civil penalties should be issued to companies that do not comply with the law? If the Equality and Human Rights Commission could be given powers and resources to carry out enforcement activity, that would have more immediate impact because at present no action seems to be taken when companies fail to deliver.

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My Lords, it is good practice for companies to publish action plans. One of the requirements for companies not publishing their gender pay gap figures is that they carry out a gender pay gap audit. That did not come to pass because all companies complied. It certainly is good practice and some companies are doing it.