It will undoubtedly take some time to fully analyse all the gender pay figures published on the government’s website but what is not in doubt is that there is a gaping wide gender pay gap in our country.
Nearly 50 years after Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act, women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. The Fawcett Society has found a 14.1 per cent pay gap which hasn’t improved at all in the past three years. And of those companies which published data by today’s deadline, an incredible 78 per cent pay men more than women.
The government may have been pressured into enacting Section 78 of the Equality Act, which requires organisations with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gap figures, but this data doesn’t mean much if we don’t act on it.
Employers must take the initiative and draw up action plans to address gender pay gaps. They can learn from companies which are demonstrating good practice. For example, stepping up recruitment of female staff where women are underrepresented and ensuring women have pathways into more senior roles.
Employers must also take steps to address the contributing factors to their gender pay gaps in the first place. This includes tackling unequal pay and discrimination, improving access to flexible working, improving take-up of shared parental leave and ensuring employees have greater work-life balances. They must also better protect the careers of women who take maternity leave, as we know 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers were discriminated against and forced out of their jobs in 2015 after taking maternity leave.
This should not be optional. I’m challenging the government to introduce Labour’s policy, to require employers to take action to tackle their gender pay gaps, or face further auditing and fines. Companies will have to submit action plans on how they will tackle pay gaps, switching the onus from employees to the employers. Under Labour, powers of enforcement would also be much tougher. And only those companies which have government certification will be considered for lucrative government contracts.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also has an important role to play. They must use their powers to ensure that those who have not properly reported their data do so, or face further action. The government must give the EHRC stronger teeth with which to tackle discrimination in the workplace. But instead the Conservatives have cut their funding by 70 per cent.
Frankly I am not optimistic that a government that has inflicted 86 per cent of the burden of austerity on women will take any real action to tackle the gender pay gap. Shocking figures revealed today by Labour exposed the escalating costs of childcare under this government. With women already earning less than their male counterparts, they are often the ones who will cut their hours at work, as it can be more financially viable than paying for childcare. As a result, career progression and salary can stagnate, leading to the very inequality which we’re trying to solve.
We need genuine action to finally close the gender pay gap and ensure equal pay for equal work. By implementing Labour’s policy to ensure we tackle, not just monitor the gender pay gap, which is essential if we are going to end this scandal once and for all. I hope the government will follow our lead.
Dawn Butler MP is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
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