UK ministers face pressure over gender pay gap reporting delay

Decades of work to close the gender pay gap is at stake if Britain’s flagship gender pay gap reporting service is shelved for a second year, MPs, business leaders and equality campaigners have warned.

The government is coming under increasing pressure to commit to gender pay gap reporting, which it confirmed to the Guardian was again “under review” for the second time in its nearly four-year existence.

It comes as exclusive survey data from the Chartered Management Institute reveals that 63% of 3,000 managers expected to see redundancies in 2021, but 80% said their company had not taken steps to ensure losses did not fall disproportionately on women, or did not know if measures had been implemented.

The gender pay gap service has been in place since 2017 and reporting revealed in 2019 that eight out of 10 British companies paid men more than women, but 35% of managers questioned by the CBI said their company had no gender pay gap.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute said the need to reinstate the gender pay gap requirement was now “very urgent”.

Figures suggest a drop off in reporting. By the end of February 2019, 776 companies had reported, at the same point last year that figure was 1,372 – before the requirement was scrapped at the 11th hour. So far this year just 474 companies of more than 10,000 have reported.

“If the government doesn’t act, things quickly disappear back down the rabbit hole,” said Francke. “The excuse is likely to be that businesses are badly hit right now but actually, it is employees, especially women and minorities, who have been badly hit.”

Gender pay gap enforcement was suspended on 24 March 2020, as the minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, said businesses faced “unprecedented uncertainty and pressure” due to coronavirus.

The possibility of a further delay comes as the women and equalities select committee recommended that gender pay gap reporting be urgently reinstated and warned the government’s response to the pandemic risks further entrenching existing gender inequality in the economy.

In its report the committee stated: “Given the high number of women who have been furloughed or worked reduced hours due to caring responsibilities, and the evidence of continuing gender inequality in other areas, this should have been a time for more – not less – transparency.”

Sian Elliott, women’s equality lead at the Trades Union Congress, said suspending gender pay gap reporting sent a message to employers that equality is “a nice to have but not essential”.

“If the government allow employers off the hook again, it is yet more evidence that they are prepared to let women pay the price for this crisis.”

Francke called on the government to create a framework to prevent the economic impact of the pandemic disproportionately impact certain sectors of the population. “I don’t see that happening,” she said “There aren’t enough diverse female voices at the heart of government policy and we urgently need to correct that.”

An spokesperson for the government’s Equality Hub said: “Last year’s decision to suspend enforcement action was taken to alleviate pressure on businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Separately the ONS [Office for National Statistics] continue to collect data on the gender pay gap, which fell to a record low last year, and we encourage all employers to take action to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in the workplace.”

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