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Fri, 27 November 2020

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We must break the culture of secrecy which enables pay discrimination to thrive

We must break the culture of secrecy which enables pay discrimination to thrive

6 in 10 working women don't know they're being paid less than a male counterpart, writes Stella Creasy MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The Equal Pay Implementation and Claims Bill (EPIC), will give women the “Right to Know” the pay of their male counterparts without court action, as well as addressing other barriers to equal pay.

The Bank of England forecast ending the gender pay gap would add £600bn to the UK economy by 2025. Tackling discrimination against those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in the workplace would add £24 billion a year to our GDP. As Britain faces an economic crisis, there has never been a better time to finally grapple with why even in 2020 not everyone gets equal pay for their equal days’ work.

The first recorded request for equal pay was in 1883 by the women in Robert Owen’s ‘labour exchange’. It is now half a century since Barbara Castle’s legendary Equal Pay Act of 1970 which made equal pay a legal requirement- and 10 years since the award winning Made in Dagenham film. Yet still the data shows that on average women are paid 83p for every £1 pocketed by men.

Women can only call this out if they know how their salaries compare to their male colleagues. As the law currently stands, women have to take their employer to court if they are refused this information, or rely on male colleagues admitting the disparity.

Currently equal pay tribunals make up 12% of the total of all employment claims in England and Wales, with 29,000 being put last year alone. Yet 40% of claimants settle because it's more stressful to continue and a third withdraw their cases due to cost. Only 41% of claimants are legally represented at tribunal, and for 58% the lack of representation is because they can't afford it.

Many companies operate a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach, never analysing their pay gap for fear of generating the information that would assist with a claim. It’s a strategy that works - The Fawcett Society found 6 in 10 working women don't know they're being paid less than a male counterpart.

Without action, these pressures will further inequality in the workplace to the ultimate detriment of women and our economic productivity

The inequalities this generates will only get worse as the fallout from the pandemic continues. In May a study by PWC showed 78% of those who have already lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic were women. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed shows it’s particularly mothers who have been forced to cut their hours, accept redundancy or furloughing through a lack of childcare. Without action, these pressures will further inequality in the workplace to the ultimate detriment of women and our economic productivity.

Today I’m proposing the Equal Pay Implementation and Claims Bill (EPIC) 2020 to parliament. Drafted by a panel of legal and HR experts chaired by Daphne Romney QC, it seeks to break the culture of secrecy which enables pay discrimination to thrive. It gives women the “Right to Know” the pay of their male counterparts without court action as well as addressing other barriers to equal pay.

The Bank of England estimates the BAME pay gap to be 10%, rising to a shocking 23.8% in London, having narrowed even less than the gender pay gap over the past 25 years. The EPIC Bill also therefore extends the current pay gap reporting mechanism to include ethnicity as part of generating the evidence base required to close it. Alongside better data, the bill also requires employers to set out how they intend to take action to address these inequalities so that they can be held to account.

For nearly 200 years, women have been asking for parity. With a pandemic bearing down on us, we can’t afford to wait any longer for action. 

Discrimination isn’t just bad for those affected. It’s bad for business and the economy too. It’s time to make equal pay for all not just a great movie, but a lived reality.

 

Stella Creasy is the Labour MP for Walthamstow.

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