Harriet Harman: 'We must press ahead with equality plans'

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Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman today insisted the recession was no excuse to scale back plans to combat unequal pay.

She promised to "set the cat amongst the pigeons" by exposing unfair bosses and would refuse to allow the plans to rest on the "back burner" because of the downturn.

Speaking to a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Brighton she warned the "old boy network" would not survive in the economy of the future.

Ms Harman has reportedly clashed with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson over the flagship Equality Bill, amid claims it would prove too costly for businesses to implement during the downturn.

But speaking at an event organised by the GMB union, Ms Harman insisted the legislation was needed now more than ever.

"The economies of the future that are going to be flourishing are not the ones that are within the old structures and the old boy network; they are the ones which understand the talents and abilities of everybody, that look to what everybody can contribute to the workforce and are not stuck in the past but look to the future and recognise women's contribution and the contribution that everyone can make in the workforce."

She added that equality was "not something that can be put on the back burner when economic times are difficult".

Ms Harman continued: "In fact it is when economic times are difficult that it is even more important that we have equality and fairness and people feel that we are all in it together and everyone can pull together."

The Government's flagship Equality Bill contains measures aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

Ms Harman said women were paid 22% less an hour than men at the national level.

"We just do not believe that women are 22% less valuable for each hour that they work, they are not 22% less intelligent, they are not 22% less hard working.

"What this is, is structural discrimination, pay discrimination against women."

Under the plans, every firm with more than 200 employees would have to reveal the average hourly wage earned by men and women.

"The good employer has nothing to fear but the bad employer will have nowhere to hide," she said.

"I think it will really set the cat amongst the pigeons on this and it will be evident, it will be not only about the unequal pay but the unequal structures in terms of the opportunities for promotion, the opportunities for people to get on in their career, it will show how much held back you are if you are a part-time worker.

"I think that is going to be very important indeed."

Turning to the Tories, she said: "Gordon (Brown) said this election, when it comes up, is going to be about big choices.

"And one of the big choices is about whether we progress onwards to a more fair and equal society or whether, with the Tories, the clock is turned back."