Make women more equal, says Harman

The Government wants to force firms to start admitting how big their gender pay gap is...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As part of a new Equalities Bill unveiled by the Government this morning, public sector firms and any private firms doing public contracts will be compelled to publish details of their percentage difference in pay between men and women. According to Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, this pay gap is prevalent even within Government – for instance it’s 26% at the Treasury, and 21% at the Department for Transport. Harman says the new measure is the only way to tackle ‘structural discrimination’ in the workplace.

However, for those firms operating purely in the private sector (which accounts for about 20m employees), there will be no such obligations – at least not yet. Harman seems to be hoping they’ll come clean of their own accord (which sounds a bit unlikely to us), but she says she’s willing to legislate if they don’t. Otherwise, there’s a danger that the new law will have a fairly limited impact across the country as a whole.

More controversially, the Equalities Bill also suggests that firms should be allowed to positively discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minority candidates at interview. Again, the idea is this will address inherent inequalities in the workplace – but it’s still a thorny issue. Not least if you’re a job-seeking white man, as the right-wing press will presumably spend the next few days reminding us.

The new bill also sees a further attack on age discrimination, which is being outlawed in the provision of all goods and services – notably insurance and health (although that doesn’t necessarily mean premiums will go down - after all, old people are still statistically more likely to get ill and die, last time we checked).

So it’s an ambitious move by Harman, who’s likely to face plenty of opposition. She insists the new rules will actually cut red tape by combining all the disparate discrimination laws – but we suspect that many businesses will be worried about having more hoops to jump through, not fewer.

Still, as we noted in our feature on the subject earlier this year, despite recent efforts the gender pay gap shows no sign of shrinking. Perhaps something radical is required to kick-start the process?

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