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Equal Pay Legislation

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans, if any, they have to amend the equal pay legislation to include the right to know the pay of a potential comparator.

My Lords, I welcome the focus the noble Baroness is bringing to this topic as we celebrate 50 years since the introduction of the ground-breaking Equal Pay Act. Equality is good for our society; it unleashes ideas and opportunities that benefit us all. The Government are using this year to reflect on what remains to be done in this area. My noble friend the Minister for Women will carefully study the proposed right to know as part of this work.

I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. During yesterday’s Oral Question on the gender pay gap, a question was asked about a woman’s right to know. The Minister agreed that a woman entitled to equal pay should be entitled to know the pay of her prospective comparator. That was good to hear. The Minister said that work is being done in government and that we should have more information on this through the employment Bill. Who are the Government speaking to on this matter? Have they discussed this with the Trades Union Congress, which has huge experience of delicate negotiations? Are they speaking to the Fawcett Society and lawyers experienced in this field? Should the Minister wish to make those arrangements and speak to those people, I would be very happy to help her make the contacts.

I thank the noble Baroness. The Government remain unconvinced that the right to know will help. It is a very complex issue, but I understand why she is bringing this forward. As I said, my noble friend the Minister for Women will look carefully at this and study the proposal in the Bill of the noble Baroness this coming year. We will want to talk to all sorts of people. I am sure that will happen, but if a number of noble Lords would like to meet to discuss this further, I am more than happy to do so as we move forward this year.

My Lords, my noble friend will agree, as will other noble Lords, that this House fundamentally believes that people should receive equal pay for equal work, irrespective of their gender. She will also be aware that we often find out whether we are being paid equally for equal work only after costly court proceedings when things go wrong. Does she agree that, since 79% of women and 74% of men say that the right to know is a good thing, the Government should take heed of it and make sure that pledges on equal pay for equal work—50 years on from the Equal Pay Act—are met in the forthcoming Bill?

I understand that both men and women think that it is a good idea but, practically, it is quite complex for anybody in a workplace to ask a colleague how much they earn. I do not know whether you can make that a statutory duty because it is somebody’s right, but this is being looked at and we will come to an agreement on it. We need to wait, look and spend this year deciding what needs to be done on this issue.

My Lords, one fundamental reason why pay discrimination continues to be so prevalent is the lack of pay transparency in our workplaces. Given that eight out of 10 companies pay men more than women, would the Minister back the Fawcett Society campaign and the Equal Pay Bill so that women can have early access to the information they need? If she needs any help with contacting Fawcett, I can help too.

The Government are fully aware of the Fawcett Bill that the noble Baroness is bringing forward. I would also say that it is a business’s responsibility to ensure, through the Equal Pay Act, that people doing the same work are paid the same. It is its responsibility, not the employee’s, to make sure that that is correct.

The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right that the employer is responsible for ensuring that its employees who are doing the same job are getting equal pay.

My Lords, the Minister explained why the right to know may be difficult, but she has not explained why she said that it will not help. Could she explain that now?

The issue about it helping is that certain women will not want to ask that question in case they will be at a disadvantage, because they will fear for their jobs and their relationships with their fellow colleagues. Therefore, we need to know from employees and employers what is the best way to make sure that people get equal pay in this country.

Does my noble friend accept that, if we are to have pay comparisons, it could work the other way round? If somebody is doing the same job as me and is paid a lot more, perhaps their pay should come down rather than mine go up.