Ministers split on benefit of mandatory pay audits

A rift has appeared in the government over whether businesses should be forced to carry out pay audits to see whether they are discriminating against female staff.

In an exclusive interview with Personnel Today, women’s minister Meg Munn said that mandatory pay audits were not part of the government’s plans to close the gender pay gap.

She said it was clear that the causes of the pay gap were much more complicated than straightforward workplace discrimination, and included poor careers advice at school and a lack of flexible working, especially in senior posts.

Instead, in its response to the recommendations made by the Women and Work Commission in February, Munn said the government would create a new ‘light-touch’ equality check tool.

“We want to find ways for organisations to diagnose if they have a problem and what action they need to take to sort that out, rather than force them to do an audit,” Munn added.

However, constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman, who was responsible for earlier reforms of maternity and paternity leave, has called for a “workplace revolution”, including mandatory pay audits.

“We need to have a robust and rigorous approach to public policy on the family,” Harman said. “We need to have mandatory pay audits because we can’t tackle in-equality when it is hidden.”

Munn said Harman was entitled to her views but the government needed to focus on a wider range of issues as suggested by the Women and Work Commission.

Women in full-time work still earn an average of 17% less than their male colleagues. The commission estimated that up to £23bn could be added to the economy if UK businesses harnessed the full potential of the female workforce.

New Government measures to help women in the workplace

  • The roll-out of new ‘equality reps’ across England, who will raise awareness among workers of flexible-working rights and discrimination issues.
  • A national education standard in schools to improve careers advice and make girls aware of non-traditional career opportunities.
  • A major new ‘exemplar employers’ scheme to help companies develop flexible working and quality part-time work for women. More than 80 organisations have already signed up for the scheme, including BP, Tesco and BAE Systems.
  • A new £500,000 fund to support companies and organisations in increasing the number of senior and quality roles available part-time.

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