Companies have rushed to release their gender pay gap data as the deadline to reveal the figures approached.
Public and private sector employers with 250 employees or more are obliged to reveal by midnight on Wednesday how much more - or less - male staff are paid compared with their female counterparts.
The government estimates this will apply to more than 9,000 organisations. Despite the fact firms have had a whole year to disclose their gender pay gap, thousands have left it to the final moment, with more than 1,200 companies reporting their statistics in the past 24 hours.
As deadline day drew to a close, more than 9720 companies had reported their gender pay discrepancy, with more than 200 of those publishing between 8am and 10.30am.
Companies that miss the deadline could face legal action including court orders and fines, but only after being given more than a month's grace period.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said companies will still be able to publish their data using the Government website after the deadline, but added that their entries will be time-stamped.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said it will initially contact employers informally if they have not published by the deadline, but businesses could ultimately be faced with “unlimited fines and convictions”.
Many firms have already revealed large discrepancies between what they pay men and women. At many firms, gaps have been far higher than the UK average of 18.4 per cent, which is equal to women earning 81.6p for every £1 paid to a man.
Welcome to The Independent’s live blog on the gender pay gap.
So far it is not clear exactly what the government will do if firms fail to meet the fast-looming deadline but equalities minister Baroness Susan Williams said this morning that the EHRC has “powers to make (firms) produce an action plan about complying”.
“If they don’t comply there is recourse to the courts and also fines. There will be pressure on them if they don’t comply,” she added.
Ms Williams said the EHRC is “ready to take action” in response to questions revolving around whether the government has power to fine companies.
Asked whether the government would be prepared to stop signing contracts with firms that do not comply, Ms Williams said: “If this legislation works in the way that we hope it will work, and makes organisations, public and private, look at their gender pay gap and actually take action to reduce it, then there will be no need to take procurement decisions.”
A number of companies have already revealed the sharp differences in what they pay their male and female employers.
Ryanair revealed a 67 per cent gender pay gap on Tuesday. It said the figure was down to the fact a large majority of its pilots are men.
The figures were better on a median measure - ie comparing the middle-earning man with the middle-earning woman - but gaps were still hefty. For example, Barclays’ stood at 43 per cent while HSBC’s was 29 per cent.
Leading accountancy and consulting firms have also disclosed similarly startling numbers. Deloitte pays women 43 per cent less than men and KPMG 42 per cent less, EY 38 per cent less and PwC 44 per cent less.
All firms claimed the figures were distorted by a small number of tremendously high-earning men but the figures also showed significant gaps for middle-earning staff too.
Radio 4’s Today programme has been criticised for getting Jordan Peterson, who has regularly challenged gender pay complaints, to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
The clinical psychologist, who is known for his controversial views, argued analysing pay by gender was a "completely inappropriate statistical analysis". Peterson's name has gained increasing traction on Twitter since the gender pay gap interview and critics have argued he should not have been used as an "expert".
The University of Toronto professor made headlines around the world after a combative interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman in January forced the channel to seek “security advice” after she was hit with a torrent of misogynistic abuse.
New research published last week ahead of the ever-nearing deadline found women earn on average £223,000 less than men over the duration of a lifetime.
The analysis, compiled by the Young Women’s Trust, a charity that supports young women on low or no pay, is based on data from the Office for National Statistics and illustrates a gender income gap comes into place as soon as women start working.
The charity notes that the startling lifetime difference is enough to buy a house outright in many parts of Britain.
“Discrimination and unequal caring arrangements still prevent women progressing at work and reaching higher salary bands,” chief executive of the trust, Carole Easton, said.
She added: “We need to help more women into male-dominated sectors and into senior positions. Helping parents share childcare more equally and supporting women back into the workforce after taking time out through flexible working opportunities would make a big difference, too".
It is worth noting the picture is not so damning on the High Street where brands such as KFC, Starbucks, Matalan, McDonald's, Primark and Costa have reported no difference in how they pay their male and female staff.
The Fawcett Society, a women's rights charity, has released a briefing in the run-up to the midnight deadline.
The briefing hopes to clear up some of the myths which shroud the issue and centers on:
- The difference between the gender pay gap and equal pay
- A summary of gender pay gap reporting regulations and how the gender pay gap is calculated
- Frequently asked questions linked to gender pay gap reporting, including why employers may have a large gender pay gap and bonus pay gap
- Guidelines on what you can do if your employer has a gender pay gap
- Fawcett's recommendations on closing the gender pay gap
With the deadline for the UK's biggest companies to release their gender pay gap nearly upon us, the #genderpaygap hashtag has been gaining increasing traction on Twitter.
Charities and political parties have used it as a springboard to share their thoughts on the issue.
Here is a selection of some those inputs:
The Conservative Party has published its its pay gap statistics but has done so outside the government’s gender gap portal - the party does not meet the threshold 250 employees requirement that would have forced it to disclose its figures before midnight sharp.
The party says it has a 12.7 per cent gap in favour of women but it also revealed a small bonus gap of 2.9 per cent in favour of men.
The Labour Party reported its gender pay gap last month, reporting a median hourly gap of 4 per cent, with no discrepancy in terms of bonus.
A cross-party group of female MPs recently launched a campaign to force employers to publish details of their gender pay gap as the first step to striving to gain pay equality.
The #PayMeToo campaign aims to support women in bossing their bosses to end gender pay discrepancies in their firms. It hopes to emulate the success of the #MeToo hashtag which endeavours to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment.
The campaign is being led by Labour MP Stella Creasy and is backed by female MPs from all the other main political parties.
In terms of sport, figures released by the Government have revealed that cricket and tennis are the sports with the greatest gaps between men's and women's pay.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) reported an average gender pay gap of 38 per cent. This means for every £1 a man makes, a women earns just 62p.
The ECB listed several key factors for the imbalance in their report - such as including the wages of centrally contracted England players in the statistics.
In the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) women are paid an average of 31 per cent less than their male counterparts across the organisation - meaning for every £1 accrued by a man, women earn 69p.
That's it for our coverage of today's gender pay gap announcements. We will of course be covering the topic in the coming days, so check back soon.
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