It has been more than 40 years since the introduction of equal pay and sex discrimination legislation in the UK but there remains a significant gap in earnings between men and women. Ongoing research by the Office for National Statistics shows that whilst the gap is decreasing, this remained at 18.1% in 2016.
There are likely to be many reasons for this – pregnancy and maternity, challenges for working mothers, obstacles relating to career progression, discrimination, or other factors such as personal choice. This is a constant topic of speculation, discussion, and controversy.
Since 2017 larger employers have been mandated to publish an annual report containing data on its gender pay gap. Reports from the 2019 data revealed that eight out of 10 British companies paid men more than women.
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit a year ago, the government suspended the requirement for reporting in 2020 to alleviate any additional pressure on businesses. There have been recent reports that the obligation to provide this data may be shelved again this year and there is concern among some MPs, business leaders and equality campaigners. Indeed Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, has reportedly stated that the need to reinstate the reporting requirement was now “very urgent”.
Many commentators recognise the disproportionate adverse impact of the pandemic on women. They are more likely to be employed in industries that have been affected by a downturn in business, like hospitality, more likely to be furloughed or made redundant and may have taken on the lion’s share of home-schooling or caring obligations. Suspending the gender pay reporting obligations for yet another year will only serve to mask such inequality.
Aside from the requirement to publish the gender pay gap data, ACAS guidance encourages employers to implement an “action plan” that aims to reduce the gender pay gap in their workplace. The action plan should identity the challenges behind eliminating the gap and consider measures such as supporting mothers with young children.
Suspending this year’s gender pay gap obligations will surely only serve to reduce transparency and signal the green light for employers to divert focus from this important equality issue.
Recently the Labour Party estimated that equal pay will not be achieved until 2052 which means that there is little hope for me or 8 million other working women witnessing this before retirement. But will this become a reality by the time my two young daughters reach the peak of their careers? Hopefully, but only with a recognition of the barriers to achieve this and an unfaltering commitment from the government and businesses alike.
This blog is by Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor at Didlaw