Equality Bill vote called on mandatory equal pay audits from 2010

Pinsent Masons partner Philip Titchmarsh points out an important distinction between gender pay gap reporting on the one hand and equal pay audits on the other.

The House of Commons is likely to vote today on whether mandatory equal pay audits should be imposed on firms immediately – not from 2013, as Labour had proposed – as the Equality Bill enters report stage at parliament today.

Liberal Democrat equality spokeswoman Lynne Featherstone told Personnel Today she will be calling for the house to vote on whether equal pay audits should become compulsory as soon as the Bill comes into force, expected to be by autumn 2010.

Currently, the Bill lists measures to enforce gender pay gap reporting for firms with more than 250 staff from 2013, if insufficient progress on reporting has been made voluntarily.

Even if, as expected, the vote does not gather huge support, it will ensure that the matter of immediate mandatory equal pay audits is properly discussed again when the Bill reaches the House of Lords, according to Featherstone.

She said she was confident she would be granted a vote on immediate audits during the report stage.

“It looks like equal pay amendments have moved up the agenda. I certainly will say I hope to test [vote on] whether audits should become mandatory. Hopefully the House will vote today. Compulsory audits will be the single biggest step change for women after 40 years of equal pay legislation,” she said.

Other Equality Bill proposals

  • Banning employers’ ability to use employment contracts to prevent staff from talking about their wages.
  • Employers will be able to favour under-represented groups during the recruitment process – provided the candidates are of equal suitability – to increase the diversity of their workforces.
  • Employment tribunals will be given wider powers to make recommendations to firms on how to improve work practices. Currently, tribunals can only offer recommendations to the individual who brings the case, and they often end up leaving the company.

She added: “The vote will show great strength, but we are not expecting a Labour rebellion, and the Tories do not want this Bill at all.”

The Bill is set to replace nine laws and more than 100 other measures with one single Act to make it easier for employers and staff to understand their legal rights and obligations. The full-time gender pay gap currently stands at 12.2%.

Business groups have expressed concern that the introduction of equal pay audits would hit businesses as they struggle to emerge from the recession.

However, Jo Stubbs, employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “The provision on gender pay information set out in clause 74 only provides a power for a Minister of the Crown to make regulations requiring employers to publish information relating to the gender pay gap. It doesn’t of itself contain substantive provisions. This means that a government might not implement the provision, or it might implement it but not go on to issue regulations. So the requirement to publish gender pay gap information is by no means a done deal.

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