Women should have access to employers’ pay data if they suspect male colleagues are being paid more than them while doing the same jobs – that’s the thrust of a bill introduced to the House of Commons on 20 October.
Drafted by women’s rights campaign group the Fawcett Society and read by Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, the Equal Pay Implementation and Claims (EPIC) Bill arrived with a full spectrum of cross-party backing, securing signatures from Conservative, Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Green MPs.
According to a Fawcett Society statement, the Bill will grant women the legal right to request pay data on male colleagues, providing appropriate safeguards are in place. (Fawcett Society Press Office, 20 October 2020)
The Society noted: “Equal pay for equal work was made a legal right 50 years ago in the Equal Pay Act 1970, but pay discrimination continues. A fundamental reason is that unless a woman knows what her colleagues earn, she cannot know if she is being paid equally.”
It added that Right to Know reform is supported by six in 10 (62%) Conservative voters and seven in 10 (71%) Labour voters, and that support is equally high across England and the devolved nations, as well as across social classes.
Fawcett Society data published on the day of the Bill’s first reading shows that just three in 10 (31%) working women agree that their employer would, if asked, tell them whether their male colleagues earned more for the same work. The other seven (69%) disagree or are unsure – meaning they would either have to rely on male colleagues to reveal their pay, or go through lengthy court proceedings to find out if they are experiencing discrimination.
Just 23% of working women aged over 55 say their bosses would be straight with them.
Fawcett Society CEO Sam Smethers noted: “Women have had the right to equal pay for half a century – but equal to what? Without the Right to Know, the vast majority of women just can’t say for sure whether they are being discriminated against.”
Meanwhile, Creasy told The Independent that the Bill’s measures are important at a time when coronavirus turmoil has led to the suspension of gender pay gap reporting for firms that employ more than 250 people.
“Of all the requirements businesses have to provide,” she said, “the gender pay gap is the thing which has been waived. What message does that send about whether you think this is a priority?” (The Independent, 20 October 2020)
Is this the right Bill in the right place at the right time?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s chief executive John Mark Williams says: “In a way, the answer has to be ‘Yes and no.’ Yes, because the principle of transparency in this, and other, areas of work should be universal. Transparency promotes trust. It supports the development of organisational communities. And more importantly, it provides equivalency in reward. And I have to say, the reason – whatever that may be – for the suspension of gender pay gap reporting during the course of the pandemic would take some justification. Monitoring and reporting on something so straightforward is probably not such an onerous task for organisations – even for many with fewer than 250 people.
“On the other hand,” Williams comments, “I’m not entirely sure that a bill is the right way to go about this. It feels like a big, blunt instrument – although, of course, sometimes blunt instruments are required. But there may be some potential here in generating a movement supported by organisations themselves, as we have seen in lots of other areas of work. That approach would make equal pay not just a reporting requirement – but a thing to do which, if not done, would identify organisations as places where people wouldn’t want to work.”
As such, he adds: “Perhaps what’s required here is both the stick, which is the Bill, and the carrot, which is, ‘We want to be seen as an organisation that demonstrates gender pay equality.’”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity
Image of EPIC Bill’s main Parliamentary backer Stella Creasy MP courtesy of John Gomez, via Shutterstock