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Column 'Women in full time employment work for free for one month every year'

In Ireland, women currently earn around 13.9 per cent less than men, writes Ivana Bacik.

THIS WEEK, ALONG with my Labour Party colleagues in the Seanad, I will be introducing the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017.

If passed, this bill would require employers to publish information demonstrating any gender pay gap that exists in their organisation.

The gender pay gap is the term used to describe the difference between the pay of women and men, calculated based on the average difference in gross hourly earnings. In 2013, the EU Commission published a major study on the gender pay gap, noting that on average, women in the EU earn about 16 per cent less per hour than men – despite the fact that women generally achieve higher results at school and college than men.

The impact of the gender pay gap over women’s lifetimes means that they earn less, have lower pensions and are at greater risk of poverty when they retire.

The figures

The EU figures show that in Ireland, women currently earn around 13.9 per cent less than men – better than the equivalent gap in the UK, where the difference is 19.5 per cent, but still impacting significantly on women’s careers and incomes.

Put another way, that figure equates to women in full time employment working for free in Ireland for about one month of every year.

Following the introduction of European pay equality directives, we passed equal pay legislation in Ireland more than forty years ago, in 1974, yet women still have not achieved anything close to pay parity with our male colleagues.

A number of reasons for ongoing inequality

There are a number of reasons for this ongoing workplace inequality. Firstly, in some cases women may be subject to direct discrimination by employers, even though this is also specifically prohibited under both EU and national legislation.

Secondly, there is a real problem with occupational gender segregation; that is, women and men being concentrated in different roles and in different sectors. For example, women make up 80 per cent of workers in the health and social work sector across the EU. Sectors where women are particularly concentrated often become “feminised”, so that work in those sectors becomes valued less highly than comparable work in different sectors being carried out predominantly by men.

Thirdly, women tend to bear a disproportionate burden of caring responsibilities in the home, and thus are likely to work shorter hours than men in many workplaces. For similar reasons, women are less likely to achieve promotions or to be represented in senior management positions.

So how do we deal with this ongoing inequality?

Labour’s initiative aims to tackle it head on. Based on legislation introduced in other EU countries, our bill would require companies with 50 employees or more to report regularly on any gender pay gap in the workplace. Such employers would be required to publish the difference between the mean and median hourly rate paid to men and women employees.

They would also be required to publish details of any differences in bonus pay – the so-called “bonus gap” is very important, as research in Ireland has shown the average gap on bonus payments between women and men to be as large as 50 per cent. We have seen this type of legislation prove effective in countries like Belgium, which now has a pay gap of just under 7 per cent.

Iceland, Australia and Germany have also introduced similar legislation and gender pay gap reporting has recently been implemented in Britain, where new regulations require companies with 250 or more staff to record how much they pay men and how much they pay women, both by the hour and in the form of bonuses, and will also require them to publish the figures on their websites.

It is now time for us to introduce similar legislation

Our bill places responsibility for ensuring greater pay transparency with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission is already empowered to undertake equality reviews and equality action plans. So this is the obvious body to administer a pay reporting mechanism.

Of course there has been immense progress for women in Ireland over recent years. The level of women in employment here has reached its highest level ever recorded, at 64 per cent. But despite positive moves towards greater gender equality, the rate of change has become stagnant. Over the past 11 years, the gender pay gap has narrowed by only four percentage points. At present rates, it would take up to 170 years before it fully closes.

We in Labour believe that Irish women, and Irish society, cannot afford to wait that long. A commitment to reducing the gender pay gap was included in the Programme for Government 2016, so we hope that the Government will look favourably on this important measure. We are calling upon them to support the speedy passage of this progressive legislation.

Senator Ivana Bacik is Labour’s Seanad Group Leader and Party Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Development.

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