Jeremy Corbyn may have faced criticism over the number of senior women in his shadow cabinet but the Labour leader put tackling the gender pay gap at the centre of the launch of his re-election campaign today.
The government plans to make all employers with more than 250 staff to report the difference in pay between their male and female workers in the hope of shaming them into making things equal. Corbyn said he wants that measure to apply to all firms with more than 21 employees (a move that will have even the most gender-blind business owner gnashing their teeth about more red tape).
‘We all know that change can take time but sometimes the delays cannot and will not be tolerated,’ he said. ‘Today, we are more than 45 years on from the equal pay act...and still women are paid 20% less than men.’ Women are over-represented in the lowest-paid sectors like caring and cleaning, he added, ‘vital sectors to our economy doing valuable work but not work that is fairly rewarded or equally respected.’
‘I’m making the commitment that the next labour government will require all employers to publish equality pay audits detailing pay, grade and hours of every job, alongside data on recognised equality characteristics,’ he said. It seems the audits will go beyond just covering gender and include disabled workers, ethnic minorities and workers of different ages. Corbyn also plans to beef up the powers of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to monitor employers and enforced the rules.
It’s certainly good to see that Corbyn recognises the importance of empowering women in the workplace but there’s a danger in extending such blunt rules to very small companies. The Federation of Small Businesses warned that pay audits would be an ‘additional cost and administrative burden,’ for firms already ‘dealing with considerable new cost challenges.’ It might seem like a straightforward thing to calculate but when you've got a bunch of people doing different jobs on different hours at different pay grades it's not the sort of figure you can just pluck out of a spreadsheet. Of course whether the policy ever gets implemented is another matter entirely.
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