British government scraps planned rules on pay equality

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The British Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government has scrapped plans by the previous government to change the rules on equal pay between men and women.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone

The previous Labour government included a provision in the Equality Act 2010—Section 78—to allow the government the option to introduce regulations that would require companies to publish details of the difference in pay between male and female employees. If the government had activated such regulations, they would have come into force in 2013. The current government have decided not to activate this requirement and instead will only ask businesses to provide this data voluntarily and will set an "aspiration" to dramatically increase the number of women in senior positions in business.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP and coalition Equalities Minister, in announcing the plans stated that the government wishes "to move away from the arrogant notion that government knows best, to one where government empowers individuals, businesses and communities to make change happen."

Featherstone announced the policy at the School of Management at Cranfield University, who have conducted research finding that only 12.5% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are women, up from 12.2% last year—"glacially slow" progress according to business commentator David Prosser.

Featherstone justified not implementing the pay audits due to the economic costs: "Right at this moment of financial peril to the nation is perhaps not the moment to introduce mandatory pay audits."

This breaks with a Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment, as well as contradicting Featherstone's own words two years ago in support of the audit: "A voluntary audit system for private industry is hardly worth the paper it's printed on. We need to know when the government actually plans to step in if progress isn't made."

Women's groups and trade unions have condemned this move. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of UNISON, Britain's second largest trade union, said that this is an example of the government "stripping down its commitment to equality".

It is a disgrace that women are still getting paid less than men. This move threatens to turn the clock back on all the progress already made with equal pay.

—Dave Prentis

Prentis continued: "It is a disgrace that women are still getting paid less than men. This move threatens to turn the clock back on all the progress already made with equal pay."

Ceri Goddard, the chief executive of the feminist campaigning group the Fawcett Society, condemned the plans: "The persistent gap in pay between men and women is one of the starkest examples of inequality in the UK today. The government's decision not to bring into force section 78 is a huge disappointment and means this injustice will continue for a long time to come. The government has today consigned another generation of women to lower pay. Their proposal to rely only on voluntary business action on pay isn't just naive, it sends a dangerous signal that tackling discrimination against women is a choice, not a requirement."

Yvette Cooper, Featherstone's shadow minister on the Labour benches, called the news "another broken promise from the government" and said that "scrapping Labour's plan to increase transparency in pay is a backwards step for women's equality."