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21 February 2017

Government fails to act on cross-party recommendations to reduce the gender pay gap

The Government will fail to achieve its goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation if it continues to ignore the evidence put before it, says a cross-party committee of MPs. The Women and Equalities Committee raises concerns that the Government is not effectively tackling the structural causes of the gender pay gap, as it publishes the Government’s response to its recommendations today. The Committee’s report and recommendations were published in March 2016 and received a Government response in January 2017.

The Committee is also launching a web forum today for stakeholders, including researchers, business-people and members of the public, to respond to the reasons given by the Government for not implementing the Committee’s recommendations.
These recommendations included:

  • Addressing the part-time pay penalty and flexible working: “Flexible working for all lies at the heart of addressing the gender pay gap. This does not mean part-time working, which is underpaid and limits career progression. The Government is not taking the steps needed to ensure flexible working is offered to all employees, particularly those in lower paid sectors.”
  • Supporting parents to share childcare equally: “As long as women continue to take the majority of responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring, pay differentials will persist. The Government recognises the benefits of men and women sharing care equally, but its flagship policy, shared parental leave – is predicted to make little difference to behaviour.”
  • Supporting women back into the workforce after time out of the labour market: The inquiry also found that women faced a number of barriers to returning to work and that there is more scope for schemes which support women returning to work across a range of occupations.
  •  Addressing low pay in highly feminised sectors such as catering, cleaning and caring:  “Other than the minimum wage, there has been no co-ordinated attempt to address the issues faced by women in low paid sectors.”

The Government’s response recognises the business case for reducing the gender pay gap and notes that, while the rate of female participation in the labour market has increased, “unfair or distorting barriers to work” remain. It acknowledges structural factors contributing to the pay gap, including women doing jobs for which they are overqualified, concentration in part-time work, and being penalised for taking time out of work to raise children.

Despite this, the Government rejects most of the Committee’s seventeen evidence-based recommendations for addressing these issues. Instead, it highlights gender pay gap reporting, as “key to accelerating progress,” and maintains that current policies on Shared Parental Leave, flexible working, and supporting women back into work are adequate.

Committee Chair Maria Miller said:

“The Government says there is no place for a gender pay gap in modern Britain and has restated its pledge to end the pay gap within a generation. But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women aged over 40 back into the workforce, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated. We made practical, evidence-based recommendations to address these issues. They were widely supported by a range of stakeholders including businesses, academics, and unions. It is deeply disappointing that our recommendations have not been taken on board by Government. My Committee will continue to pursue urgent action to reduce the gender pay gap – starting by questioning the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities on this inadequate response to our recommendations.”

The Committee will be questioning the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening MP, on the Government’s response to its recommendations on Wednesday 26th April.

The Committee is calling for evidence on the responses made by the Government to the following three recommendations made in the Committee’s report:

1. All jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so. The latest data from 2016 shows that just 8.7 per cent of jobs paying a full-time equivalent of £20,000 are advertised as available to work flexibly or part-time. Our report demonstrated that this creates a significant bottleneck to women’s employment, promotion and progression opportunities.

2. A more effective policy on shared parental leave. The Committee recommended that fathers and second parents should be entitled to three months’ well-paid, non-transferrable paternal leave in addition to current parental leave benefits. We also recommended equalising the payments for the first four weeks of maternity and paternity pay.

3. A National Pathways into Work scheme for harnessing the skills and experience of women over 40. This scheme would give women a clear entry point into a support system offering careers guidance; retraining where necessary; and information on local skills shortages and job opportunities.


FURTHER INFORMATION

Media information: Simon Horswell – horswells@parliament.uk; 0207 219 4314/ 07703 800 004
Twitter: @commonswomequ
Specific Committee information: womeqcom@parliament.uk Tel: 020 7219 6123
Find out more about our work
here
Watch committee proceedings live: 
www.parliamentlive.tv


17 February 2017

Avoca apologises for unequal pay


Two women working in a Belfast café have won an equal pay claim against their employer, Avoca Handweavers (NI) Ltd with the support of the Equality Commission.
Paulina Paczkowska and Agnieszka Anna Golygowska both worked as floor staff/baristas in the Avoca Café. By 2015, Paulina was earning £6.79 per hour and Agnieszka £6.98 per hour, while their male colleague was earning £8.46.
Both women tried to resolve the matter without going to court by taking out a grievance against the company, but their grievances were dismissed; they lodged claims with the Tribunal and their trade union referred them to the Northern Ireland Equality Commission for help.
Avoca conceded that it did not have a structured pay scheme within the business. The firm also admitted that the three employees were all doing like work and accepted that there was a disparity in pay between the man and the women but claimed that material factors other than the sex of the staff, including the fact that the comparator had asked for more money,  were the reason for the disparity.
The Tribunal ruled that the factors cited by Avoca could not explain the difference in the pay rates and awarded the women equal pay to that paid to their male colleague from May 2013.
Dr Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive of the Equality Commission, said the case highlighted the clear legal protection afforded by the law:
“The law governing equal pay can seem complex, but its essence is very simple – men and women doing equal work for the same employer should get the same reward for it."
“The women concerned will benefit from the courage they have shown in challenging their treatment in this case. The company too, and all employers, can learn from this decision and others like it.”
In an unusually frank statement issued after the Tribunal had found against them Avoca said:
Avoca is committed to fair and equal pay practices and to equal opportunities for all our employees. We believed we were operating in a fair and proper way but we understand and accept the findings of the Tribunal. We will take steps to rectify Paulina and Agnieszka’s pay as quickly as possible and we apologise to them that we did not get it right in this instance”.
You can read the full decision here.


New briefing on the gender pay gap in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICE) has produced a briefing on the gender pay gap in Scotland. The briefing looks at data on pay by gender from this year’s Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) (ONS 2016a) produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Key points from the SPICE briefing are:  
  • When comparing median or typical pay for all employees men make more money than women. The pay gap for all employees in Scotland is 15.6 per cent compared to 18.1 per cent in the UK.
  • The gender pay gap in Scotland for full time employees is 6.2 per cent, lower than the UK overall at 9.4 per cent.  
  • Since 1997 the gender pay gap in Scotland for full-time employees has fallen from 18.4 per cent to 6.2 per cent.
  • Women are paid more than men for part-time work when comparing the median or typical pay.
  • When looking at median pay, women across most age groups are paid less than men. The pay gap increases for women over the age of 40. Between the ages of 30 and 39 women are paid more than men.
  • When looking at occupations, the largest pay gaps are found in skilled trades and management.
The briefing also suggests reasons for the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
  • The top 10 per cent of earners in Scotland earn below the UK average for top earners. As the highest earners tend to be men this will contribute to the overall pay gap being lower. For example, London and the South East have the highest income for the top 10 per cent of earners and have the second and third highest pay gaps respectively.
  • Scotland has the second highest proportion of people who work in the public sector in the UK – as the pay gap in the private sector is higher than in the public sector the higher proportion of people working in the public sector will contribute to having a smaller pay gap.
You can read the full briefing here.

Meanwhile, in Common Space, Scotland’s digital news and views service, columnist Ben Simmons calls on those without the time to support the broader campaign for closing the gender pay gap to be open about what they earn.

“So what can we do if we are looking down through the glass ceiling? I think the simplest thing is to publish our salaries - tell your colleagues what you earn and encourage them to do the same. Some companies already publish salaries, so I would encourage us to ask our employers why this isn’t their policy.”

Sounds like a good idea to me!


13 February 2017

Widening gender pay gap in architecture

The results of the Architecture Journal’s annual Women in Architecture survey – undertaken alongside sister-title The Architectural Review – show that the architectural industry is far from equal. 
The poll of 1,277 women and 340 men paints a picture of a profession where a glass ceiling is firmly in place and women are consistently earning less for doing the same job as their male counterparts – indeed, far from the gap narrowing, as is the case in other industries, the gap is widening.  
A third of women architects believe their male colleagues are being paid more for doing the same job. And they are right. Across the survey all women working in full-time positions in practice earned less than their male counterparts doing the same job, with the pay gap increasing with seniority. Female partners and principals of UK architecture firms take home £55,000 less than males in the same role – a pay gap that has widened by £42,000 in the last two years. 
The introduction of gender pay gap reporting is unlikely to make much of an impact on the pay gap because this will only affect companies with more than 250 employees and just 15 of the firms in the Architecture Journal’s 100 companies hit this threshold. 
So what will encourage the rest to comply? Sadly, the buck gets passed back to women, who are encouraged to ask for a pay rise  . . . .  and yet, the survey also shows that women are penalised for wanting a family, and sexual discrimination and bullying are rife. In such a culture, who would risk asking for more?
You can read more about the survey here.

11 February 2017

Men falling behind, women standing still

Intelligent post from Daniel Tomlinson at the Resolution Foundation, pity it wasn’t more accurately reported.

Men are falling behind previous generations of workers, women are standing, which, as Tomlinson says, is a disappointing return on all the strides they’ve made in education. And millennial men still earn more than millennial women.

As Tomlinson says, it’s good news that low paid roles are now being more evenly shared between women and men, but that doesn’t address the fact that the UK has a low paid service sector economy – and that’s the point that was missed out of the press coverage.

3 February 2017

Employers not yet ready for gender pay gap reporting

The latest survey from XpertHR finds employers ill prepared to handle the gender pay gap reporting regulations, which come into effect in April 2017, with a full report required by April 2018.
The Regulations require all employers with 250 or more relevant employees to measure and report their gender pay gaps, but XpertHR found that with the deadline date fast approaching, most employers surveyed admitted they don’t know how or when they will publish the results of the exercise.
Just under one-fifth (18.8 percent) admitted that they will run their data for the first time when the Regulations are in force – leaving them no time to assess their position and draw up plans before having to take the figures to the board.
Although a small number of employers plan to complete the task as soon as possible after April 2017 (11.6 percent) or at the time of their annual report (7.2 percent), more than half of organisations (52.9 percent) admitted they don’t know when they will publish their figures, and one in four organisations (23.9 percent) intend to delay as long as possible, publishing as close as they can to the deadline.
More positively, when it comes to acting upon the data, employers are keen to be seen to do the right thing. XpertHR found that two-thirds of respondents expect to commit to a plan to close any pay gap that is identified, while 27.5 percent said they were unsure what would happen. Only 5 percent said their organisation would not commit to closing the gender pay gap.
For more on gender pay gap reporting go to Gender Pay Gap Reporting


Consultation on minor changes to Employment Tribunal fees

The Government has revealed the outcome of its review of Employment Tribunal fees and launched a consultation on new proposals to change the fees remission scheme (called ‘Help with Fees’). The Government considers that its review of Employment Tribunal Fees shows that the introduction of fees has broadly met its objectives:
  • Users are contributing between £8.5 million and £9 million a year in fee income, in line with what the Government expected, transferring a proportion of the cost from the taxpayer to those who use the tribunal;
  • More people are now using Acas’s free conciliation service than were previously using voluntary conciliation and bringing claims to the Employment Tribunal combined; and
  • Acas’s conciliation service is effective in helping just under half the people who refer disputes to them avoid the need to go to the tribunal, and where conciliation has not worked, most people go on to issue proceedings.

Given these conclusions, it is not surprising that the planned changes are only minor.

Under the Government’s new proposals, the gross monthly income threshold for a fee remission would be increased from £1,085 to £1,250: broadly the level of someone working full time and earning the National Living Wage. Additional allowances for people living as couples and for those with children would continue to apply.

What perhaps is surprising, is that these proposals have come out in advance of the Supreme Court’s hearing on the 27th March 2017 of Unison’s appeal against the rejection by the Court of Appeal of its legal challenge to fees.  

The Government accepts that ‘there does appear to be evidence that fees have discouraged some people from bringing proceedings’, but it states that there is ‘no conclusive evidence that anyone has been prevented from doing so.’ The Government is satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards in place to make sure that fees do not prevent people from bringing claims before the Employment Tribunals, but is proposing to reform the Help with Fees scheme.

The consultation closes on 14 March 2017 and you can find the consultation document here.

The House of Commons Library has a briefing summarising the developments since Employment Tribunal Fees were introduced in 2013. You can find the briefing here.