The CBI has welcomed the simplification of discrimination law contained in the Equality Bill but warned that it has been spoiled by “unnecessary and unhelpful requirements” on gender pay reporting.
The legislation, which comes into force in October, will replace nine laws and more than 100 other measures with a single Act, in a bid to make it easier for employers and staff to understand their legal rights and obligations.
Nicola Walker, senior policy adviser at the CBI, told Personnel Today: “The Equality Bill has strong points – especially the way it seeks to simplify and unify law in this area. Unfortunately, it has been spoiled for many businesses by unnecessary and unhelpful requirements on gender pay reporting.”
The Act will make it possible for the government to require all employers with more than 250 staff to report their gender pay gap from 2013, if sufficient progress on reporting has not already been made voluntarily. Public bodies with more than 150 employees will also be required to report on gender pay as well as other equality data including the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic workers, by April 2011.
CBI members believe that such “blunt measures” will not help to tackle the underlying cultural and educational causes of the pay gap between men and women in the workplace, according to Walker.
“The gender pay gap can be misinterpreted,” she said. “It does not compare men and women doing the same job – it reflects the fact that fewer women have higher paid jobs across the labour market as a whole. The way to address this is not by comparing misleading average pay gap statistics, but by improving opportunities for women via better childcare, flexible working and careers advice.”
However, Walker welcomed the extension in the scope of positive action, which will allow employers to favour under-represented groups during recruitment processes – provided the candidates are of equal suitability – to increase the diversity of their workforces.
“Our research shows that a lack of applicants is the key obstacle for employers looking to increase the diversity of their workforce,” she said. “With these new measures, businesses that have identified under-representation will be able to take effective steps in recruitment and staff development to address this disparity.”