Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019: Second Stage
Fianna Fáil will support this important legislation. I agree with Deputy Niamh Smyth who noted that we introduced equal pay legislation 40 years ago. That seminal legislation had an impact. Unfortunately, however, we still do not have gender pay equality. It is wholly unacceptable that a woman would not be paid the same as a man for doing the same job simply because she is a woman. It is important that we recognise the need to produce innovative legislative proposals that will force companies to ensure they do not have gender pay inequality. This legislation will start the process of achieving that outcome.
We will never be able to eradicate inequality but we should be able to eradicate discrimination. At the heart of this debate is the discriminatory act of women not being paid an equal amount as men for doing the same job. That is against the law and we need to ensure we bring in legislation that will reveal where this practice is happening more easily than is the case at present.
It is important to ponder on the statistics cited by Deputy Niamh Smyth in respect of the ongoing gender pay gap that exists in the European Union. The Deputy noted that the earnings of women in the EU are 16.2% below those of men, while the Irish gender pay gap appears to be 13.9%. I hope this legislation will have the desired effect.
It is also important we recognise that gender pay inequality is completely unacceptable. There is, however, another form of pay inequality that is not defined by gender or sexual orientation. This is the extraordinary gap that now exists between those at the bottom level of companies and those at the top end. While this is not a matter for today's debate, a report was published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom. I can assure the Ceann Comhairle this is not a left-leaning think tank. In fact, it is criticised for being too pro-market. However, the report deals with an issue that this House will have to address. It indicates that there is a growing and dangerous level of inequality in pay in the UK and that the UK is catching up with the United States in this respect. I have no difficulty with people earning good salaries and lots of money but I have a concern if they are increasing their salary on the back of other people having a declining income or having their income take from them. It is important that we consider what Professor Sir Angus Deaton stated today when launching this report. He warned of the dangers of disillusionment if people did not feel fairly rewarded for their work and that extreme wealth seemed to be gained by "taking rather than making". He stated that "people getting rich is a good thing" but not if it meant "enriching the few at the expense of the many".
That report pointed out the fact that in the UK at present, the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company now 145 times the average salary. That is up from 47 times in 1998. That is a trend that we see with many technology and big companies where people at the top earn vast amounts of money and the salaries of other people working within those companies or elsewhere are declining. We do not know the reason for that. It may be because of falling trade union membership, which is one of the reasons put forward by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but it is having serious consequences in the UK and it is generating greater inequality there.
Fortunately, in this country, I do not believe we have gone down the route of the UK and United States but we need to be very careful to ensure we do not allow a divergence to develop in incomes between people at the bottom and people at the top such that we have extraordinary inequality in the country in the same way as there is in the UK and the United States. Obviously, one is never going to have uniformity in respect of people's salaries. Equality is not about uniformity but we need to ensure that we do not allow a situation to develop here which has been identified and warned of by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. This is something we need to keep an eye on in the future, that we do not allow a situation to develop where people at the bottom see their earnings dropping and dropping. Fortunately, in this country, we have minimum wage legislation which we need to protect. We also need to ensure we convey a message to companies that it is to their benefit to have employees who are well paid. It is to the benefit of society if everyone is well paid as opposed to just large companies trying to run down wages so that profits can be made for shareholders and the greater salaries paid to the wealthy people at the top of the companies.