Why we’re breaking ranks on equal pay

Last week
a government task force proposed that organisations should be forced by law to
undertake regular reviews to ensure equal pay between women and men. The
reaction from the CBI and the CIPD was swift. More legislation is not the
answer, they said, and the extra red tape will hit companies’ competitiveness.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

So why is
Personnel Today breaking ranks? After all, nobody has campaigned more
vigorously than this magazine against unnecessary red tape and employment
regulations. For evidence, look at our campaign for better regulation last year
which helped bring about a government review.

Everybody
agrees with the equal pay task force’s aim of achieving gender pay equality
within eight years. Where they part company is on the best way to achieve this.
The CIPD argument is that employers will embrace the need for pay reviews and
job evaluation more willingly if the approach is voluntary. Personnel Today is
aware that many HR professionals will agree with this.

So why are
we backing a change to the Equal Pay Act? The Act has been in force for 30
years and the gap remains at 18 per cent. It is simply not credible to argue
that those who have failed to take action will voluntarily put right in eight
years what they have ignored for the past 30.

The CBI
argues that there is not enough evidence that discrimination by employers is
the cause of unequal pay. Yet how are we to gather evidence on the impact of
good practice while employers remain under no obligation to report on how they
pay male and female staff? The pay review proposed by the task force is
designed to make employers take a hard look at the facts.

Before
dismissing the proposal, every HR professional should look closely at the
details. Any change to the law will be based on good employment practice and
follow talks with employers. Companies will be allowed time to implement
processes voluntarily before it becomes a statutory duty. The first phase
should be a painless equality health check and the sort of exercise that should
be automatic in 21st century organisations.

Yes, there
are many qualifications to Personnel Today’s support for compulsory pay
reviews, not least the need to make sure that differences between employment
sectors are taken fully into account. 

We accept
that on its own, a requirement to carry out reviews will not close the pay gap.
But what is there to lose? After all, it only enshrines in legislation what
employers say they are going to do anyway. And those organisations with no
plans to address the issue will get a timely wake-up call.

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