European Parliament asks why we still have a gender pay gap in Europe
The European Parliament will today debate a report on equal pay written by Edit Bauer, a Slovakian Christian Democrat member of the parliament (MEP).
“How” she asks “is it possible that after having legislation on equal pay for over 50 years it doesn’t work and we still have a 16%-17% gender pay gap in the EU?”
Good question, Ms Bauer.
Yannakoudakis, a member of the Conservative ECR group in the parliament, argues that more legislation is not the way forward; Honeyball, a member of the Socialist group, says there’s no other way.
I have long campaigned for companies to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. Nevertheless, I shall be voting against this report.
Is this because I no longer believe that men and women should receive equal treatment in the workplace? Certainly not.
It’s because I expect that these proposals will encourage the European Commission to develop legislation on equal pay, which I believe will ultimately be bad for business and bad for women.
Clearly the gender pay gap remains a problem. In the UK, the full-time gap is over 10% and the overall difference between men and women’s pay is nearly 20%. In some countries in Eastern Europe, the gap is as large as 30%.
I agree that this is unacceptable, yet I am unconvinced that new legislation – let alone new European Union (EU) legislation – is the solution to the problem.
The UK is already well served by legislation on equal pay. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 very simply prohibits employment contracts with terms which are more favourable to one or the other gender.
The European Union Treaty also obliges member states to ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work is applied. The 2010 Equality Act tried to build on the Equal Pay Act yet, like a great deal of well-meaning legislation, it introduced unnecessary and unhelpful red tape which proved burdensome for business.
Rather than rules, regulations and sanctions we need to encourage companies to make the workplace as flexible and family-friendly as possible. That is why the UK coalition government has proposed the Children and Families Bill which will establish flexible parental leave by 2015.
The new arrangements will allow women – and more significantly men – to balance their work and family lives. Denmark and Sweden have similar systems where men and women can share blocks of time-off after the birth of a child.
Here is where the EU can be of added value – by sharing best practices in member states and finding ways to ensure that family-friendly policies are not overly- taxing for business.
The British government is also examining the possibility of encouraging flexible working for all employees, irrespective of their child-rearing or caring responsibilities.
While it is important to balance out the proposals with the burdens they may place on business, flexible working has actually been shown to boost productivity.
Working mothers in particular would benefit from flexible working, but it would also help those looking after elderly parents. It would allow all workers – especially women – to deliver to the best of their ability.
I believe that companies need to act voluntarily to break down the barriers which women face in the workplace. I have denounced EU plans for compulsory quotas for women in the boardroom and I similarly favour a voluntary approach when it comes to equal pay.
We can only achieve equal pay when firms themselves realise the benefits; change will not come by telling companies how to run their business or by dictating how people should behave.
Family-friendly businesses, equal pay for equal work, flexible working, using the skills of women to drive the economic recovery: these are all common sense initiatives.
And it is precisely because it’s common sense that the European Union should steer clear of legislation. Businesses do not need to brow-beaten into breaking down barriers in the workplace.
Talented women can and will rise to the top based on merit. Employers are realising the true value of women and ensuring that they are appropriately remunerated.
We need motivation not intimidation and I shall continue to resist moves by Brussels to legislate in this area.
Equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in EU legislation since 1976. However, despite our best efforts, the reality is that a gender pay gaps exists in the UK.
My fear is that this will not change for several more generations to come unless and until there is legislative intervention.
The last Labour government introduced measures in 2010 which stipulated that by 2013 companies of over 250 employees would have to file gender pay reports.
When the Conservative-led coalition government came into office they removed the compulsory nature of this requirement. Their justification was that it would have an adverse effect on small businesses.
My firm view, on the other hand, is that a business employing 250 plus people should have robust enough policies in place to ensure that their employees are treated equally and fairly.
Tough legislative measures are, I believe, the only way forward. The European Union has been concerned about the gender pay gap for many years.
The report asking for legislation on the gender pay gap includes demands for work evaluation and job classification, equality bodies and legal remedy and sanctions for non-compliance.
It will now be up to members of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee to keep the pressure up to ensure that a European Directive is brought forward.
On a related matter, I am completely in favour of mandatory quotas for women on company boards. I welcome the initiative from European Commissioner Viviane Reding to consult on introducing binding quotas.
This is the only way to make any kind of progress. It is no good just saying that we want more women in the boardroom. To achieve this kind of parity concrete action needs to be taken
In Norway company boards are obliged to have 40% women directors and it works very well. Just in case you doubted it, women are just as able as men to take on these leadership roles.
The Norwegian model is, I believe, the way we should go. We should explore how Norway has implemented its quota for women on company boards and see how we can incorporate into our ways of operating in Britain.
We must, in addition, support Commissioner Reding in her ground breaking initiative. This particular fight must go on until we reach achieve parity.