Shephard faces criticism over women's rights

THE EQUAL Opportunities Commission yesterday called into question the commitment to women's rights of the Government and in particular of Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment.

On the eve of the Committee Stage of the Employment Bill sponsored by Mrs Shephard, Joanna Foster, chair of the commission, demanded that critical elements of the proposed legislation should be changed. Ms Foster said the Government's proposals would mean a widening of the pay gap between men and women, and claimed clauses on maternity pay could be in breach of EC law.

The Bill was potentially the most important piece of legislation on equal opportunites for a decade, but the provisions on maternity pay should be altered and the plan to abolish wages councils should be dropped, she said.

If the Government wanted to prove it was seriously committed to equality at work, 'crucial flaws' in the Bill needed to be remedied, the commission said. In its formal response, it argued that it was now time to get the framework for equal opportunites right, to give both sexes equal rights at work.

Ms Foster said the Bill had 'enormous implications' for women at work and registered her disappointment that the commission had not been consulted earlier. The lack of public consultation on the planned statute was also attacked. She said that wages councils dictated minimum rates of pay for 2.7 million workers, 2 million of whom were women.

Equal-pay legislation was of limited value for such women because 'occupational segregation' meant it was difficult to compare their wages with comparable jobs dominated by men.

On maternity rights, she said the Bill would increase the complexity of an already complicated scheme. The 14-week minimum leave period was too short and the timing of the leave could reduce existing rights and so could be in breach of the EC Pregnancy Directive.

Because the Bill states that maternity leave cannot start earlier than the 11th week before expected confinement, some women could be forced through pregnancy-related ill-health to use up most of their leave before the birth. There was also no provision for 'parental leave', so the father's role was ignored; there was insufficient protection against pregnancy dismissal and there was an 'inadequate' definition of work which was unsuitable during pregnancy, it said.

The Bill contained no guarantee that there would be a continuation of contractual rights, such as pension entitlements, during maternity leave, which falied to comply with EC provisions.

Clause 26 of the proposed law on 'transfer of undertakings' did not give sufficient protection to women affected by contracting out of public services and compulsory competitive tendering.

'If this clause is not amended, the likely effect is an even wider gap between men and women,' Ms Foster said.

The broadside delivered by the commission against the Bill is a further indication of its disappointment with Mrs Shephard, who, it had hoped, would be more sympathetic to equal-rights issues than her predecessor, Michael Howard.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering