Mandatory pay audits won’t close gender gap

Leading HR directors have warned against the introduction of compulsory pay audits as a means to eradicate the gender pay gap as campaigners ramped up the pressure on Gordon Brown to bring in new laws.

Ahead of the expected introduction of the Equalities Bill in Parliament later this month, equalities body the Fawcett Society has joined forces with unions and anti-poverty charities to urge the government to establish mandatory equal pay audits for public and private sector organisations.

In a joint-statement last week, the signatories called for tougher action on closing the equal pay gap, which now stands at 17% between men’s and women’s full-time hourly rates – the equivalent of women earning £4,000 less than men per year.

But HR professionals insisted any new legislation was unnecessary and unwelcome. Christian Armstrong, head of HR at hotels group Thistle, told Personnel Today: “We must do our best not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing the pay gap. If every organisation was made to conduct audits this could have a detrimental effect on organisations that do not have the resources or expertise to complete such an audit in-house.”

Vicky Hemming, HR director at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, agreed equal pay audits would waste resources in the wrong area. “The cost of pay audits could be better applied to ensuring flexible working, thereby increasing women’s opportunities to access the widest range of jobs.”

However, Ann Rivera, organisational development director at Trident housing association, said audits could be useful to punish those organisations found guilty of pay discrimination – an idea originally mooted by Conservative minister for women Theresa May to Personnel Today last year.

“Tougher action is needed to eradicate inequalities. Organisations found guilty of pay discrimination should be made to conduct equal pay audits,” Rivera said.

Business groups including the CBI and British Chambers of Commerce are opposed to mandatory pay audits. Katja Hall, CBI head of employee relations, said: “Mandatory pay audits won’t tackle the underlying causes of the gender pay gap, and will only divert company resources from taking action to solve the problem.”

The government would not confirm whether the Equalities Bill would include mandatory equal pay audits for either public or private sector employers.

The Equalities Bill

The long-awaited Equalities Bill intends to simplify diversity law in the UK, bringing public sector duties on gender, disability and race into one place.

Although it is not thought to include extra duties for the private sector, it will demand more transparency from employers and strengthen enforcement of the law. Women’s minister Harriet Harman will make a statement to Parliament on the Bill by July, the Government Equalities Office confirmed.

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