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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee