18 December 2014
The Equal Pay Bill was overwhelmingly backed in parliament, passed by 258 to eight.
The proposed legislation would make it compulsory for companies with more than 250 employees to publish the average pay differences between their male and female staff. At present publishing is voluntary, and only five of 7,000 big companies have done so.
Government ministers abstained from voting. The Tory MPs that voted against the bill were: Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), David Nuttall (Bury North), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), and John Whittingdale (Maldon).
The bill, tabled by Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, would bring into effect measures in the 2010 Equality Act that which were not implemented by the coalition. As it is a 10 minute rule bill, it is unlikely to progress further before the next general election without government backing.
Members of the 1967 Ford Dagenham workers strike for equal pay attended a rally in support of the vote. One of the strikers, Eileen Pullen, said: “It’s been 40-odd years now [since the Equal Pay Act 1970] and it should all be finished with now, shouldn’t it?”
Labour have released analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shoring that women earn £209,967 less than men over a lifetime. The UK’s gender gap is currently 9.7%, the highest since records began, and one of the poorest records in any developed economy. The UK fell out of the top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world for the first time this year, dropping to a ranking of 26 in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report.
The adversity that working women face has also been highlighted by the TUC this week, who have released a report to mark Decent Jobs Week; Women and Casualisation – Women’s experiences of job insecurity.
The report documents the greater impact of the shift towards a casualised workforce on women – they earn on average £60 less per week than men, 30,000 women are sacked during pregnancy, maternity rights are frequently flouted, and changing shift patterns and underemployment has an adverse effect on in-work benefits and working tax credits (16 hours a week must be worked for eligibility).
The TUC notes; “The UK labour market is changing. While the last few years have brought higher than expected levels of employment, this has been fuelled by a growth in temporary and insecure work. In sectors like social care, retail, catering, cleaning and hospitality hundreds of thousands of women are employed on contracts that offer little in the way of pay, guaranteed hours or job security…casualised and precarious work pose particular problems for women, partly because of the weaker maternity rights associated with some of these types of contracts and partly due to difficulties reconciling variable hours or job insecurity with caring responsibilities.”
Aileen McColgan, a leading expert in equality law, argues the need for a systemic approach to the gender pay gap, entailing “mandatory auditing of pay structures, obligations of transparency and the involvement of unions and other collectives of workers in scrutinising the reasons for and the justifiability of pay gaps.”
McColgan’s analysis of the Equality Act 2010 is available here