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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why