Women and Work Commission doubts value of equal pay audits

The Women and Work Commission remains deadlocked over whether to recommend mandatory pay audits to address the gender pay gap, according to its chair, Baroness Prosser.

Unions have called for the move, which would mean all employers have to carry out checks to make sure women and men are paid the same for jobs of equal value. If discrepancies are found, affected staff can claim up to six years back pay to address inequalities.

But employers have railed against the idea, claiming it would place an unfair burden on them.

Prosser said there were similar arguments going on within the Women and Work Commission, with members involved in “very tricky discussions”.

“There is a swell of opinion on one side that there must be mandatory pay audits – perhaps for companies of a certain size,” Prosser told delegates at the CIPD’s annual conference. “The others think this would be a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.”

A compromise seems unlikely, with Prosser adding that “both sides hold [the pay audits issue] very dear to them”.

The commission has already agreed to recommend the introduction of workplace equality representatives to police individual employers.

Prosser is known to be against the idea, but has agreed to go with the consensus.

She also told delegates that the unions should do more to tackle the occupational segregation that exists within each individual workplace. The problem of occupational segregation was not just something that needed to be considered in terms of whole industries, she said.

“There are places that are well-managed by unions, but women remain in certain roles and no-one says ‘this shouldn’t be the way of things’,” Prosser said.

The commission is expected to deliver its recommendations to government next January.

Five alive: top five challenges facing HR

There are five big challenges for HR to face over the next five years are, according to Thomas Stewart, editor of Harvard Business Review:


“The challenge of speed is enormous. Customers today expect 24-hour global service and to be able to communicate 24 hours a day. This puts a lot of pressure on organisations,” said Stewart.

HR must have faster reflexes than ever before to keep up with today’s rapidly moving product cycles and fast decision-making processes, he said.

Blurred boundaries

Stewart referred to the “disintermediation” of the boundaries between organisations, with many of them becoming increasingly homogenised and interweaving their processes. HR must plan the workforce carefully to try and remain unique and develop its intangible assets, he said.

Customer power

“Consumer power is a new fact of economic life,” claimed Stewart. Customers now have more knowledge than ever before and the growing trend of customer relationship management tools reflects this. HR must beware of fads and ask customers what it is that’s valuable to them.

Low-cost competitors

HR must work out a strategy to cope with the challenge of low-cost competitors. Stewart said they had a winning formula so HR must look at where it can cut costs to compete.


Risk and unpredictability are ubiquitous in business today. The difference being that risk could be calculated. HR must do all it can to look at cause and effect.

Conference views

Martin Moore, head of HR, British Museum

“The government spent £2.7bn on external consultants for central civil service departments in 2004/5, at the same time as cutting 84,000 jobs. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend some of that money on ‘up-skilling’ existing staff?”

Alex Wilson, group HR director, BT

“We are not a tea and welfare sympathy group. We are not a stand-in for the trade unions and I don’t agree with the role of HR as ’employee champion’.”

John Purcell, professor of HRM, University of Bath

“The danger in HR is that you can spend a long time putting in a practice that may not be put into effect. There’s a general view that HR has a tendency to be obsessed with policies.” 

Jenny Watson, acting chair, Equal Opportunities Commission

“Poverty in retirement has a female face” (on statistics that show that the median retirement income of women is 53% lower than their male counterparts).

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