Irish legislation to compel organisations with more than 50 staff to reveal data on the average gap between what they pay men and women would have a massive impact on female earnings, while helping good employers to boost their brands and compete for the best talent in the labour market, according to Ireland’s largest public service union. When similar measures were introduced in the UK earlier this year, a leading labour law expert said it could do more for gender pay parity in five years than equal pay legislation had done in 45 years.
Speaking at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ biennial conference in Belfast today (Thursday), IMPACT lead organiser Linda Kelly said compulsory reporting of organisations’ gender pay gaps would “shine a light on inequity” and enable consumers to take account of the pay gap when deciding what to buy.
She said the gap between average pay for men and women was around 15% in the Republic of Ireland, and almost 10% in the north. “At the current rate of action, the United Nations reckons it will take 70 more years before women’s average pay matches men’s,” she said.
Legislation to introduce workplace gender pay gap reporting was adopted in the Seanad, with all-party support, in May. Introduced by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2017 is likely to face a sterner test when it returns to committee stage in the autumn. Ms Kelly urged trade unions and civil society organisations to keep up the pressure to maintain all-party support for the reform.
Ms Kelly said: “Four decades of hard-won equal pay legislation has improved women’s incomes and status in the workplace. Yet we still have a gender pay gap of around 15% in the Republic, and almost 10% in Northern Ireland. At the current rate of action, the United Nations reckons it will take 70 more years before women’s average pay matches men’s.
“Pay gap reporting will help us by shining a light on the source of the inequity, so often expressed in ignorable national averages, in our offices, shops, factories and care settings. It will put pressure on employers, forcing them to address the issue if they want to protect their reputations in an economy where brand value is ever more important.
“It will help decent employers to compete for the best talent in the labour market. Just for once, it could have them competing to pay people more. It will empower women to organise and bargain, armed with the facts and with public opinion on their side. And it will enable trade unionists, citizens and progressive organisations to take account of the gender pay gap when making decisions about how they spend their money.”
The move on gender pay reporting has so far been opposed by employer group Ibec, despite winning the support of the UK Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and other British-based employer bodies. IMPACT has written to Ibec in advance of a stakeholder consultation on the Seanad Bill. The union argued that the measure “would open up a new front on which employers could compete to attract and retain the best female talent” and said “publicly available gender pay gap information would also allow firms to make informed choices about who to engage as suppliers or contractors from a gender equality perspective.”
IMPACT’s social media campaign on the issue, under the banner #ClockedOut, has won widespread support and has featured in leading web-based women’s publications Shemazing – which is Ireland’s leading website for women under 35 – and her.ie, which has 2.6 million followers.
Ms Kelly said: “We quickly saw this was an issue that resonated with women and which connected with a hunger for fairness and justice across the genders, across the generations, and across borders. Passing the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill would be a strong signal that Ireland doesn’t just care about equal pay, but that we mean to do something decisive about it. Not in 70 years’ time, but now.”
The IMPACT conference motion calls on ICTU Congress and its affiliates to:
- Actively campaign for legislation (similar to that in force in Britain and elsewhere) to oblige medium and large employers to publish details of their organisations’ gender pay gap
- Develop guidance for affiliates on specific measures to gender-proof pay claims and pay structures. These would address issues like time spent out of the workplace in order to meet caring commitments, and the potential for shortening long pay scales which can, in certain circumstances, indirectly discriminate against women
- Support affiliates pressing for pay improvements in highly feminised sectors of the economy including elder care, early education, care and education of children with special needs, retail, hospitality and clerical and administrative work
- Support broader social campaigns to promote gender equality in domestic and caring environments, as well as in the workplace and throughout society.