Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019: Second Stage

 

8:10 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)

Táim ag tacú leis an mBille seo. Tá roinnt cáineadh a bhféadfaimís a dhéanamh faoin mBille seo mar atá sé, agus go bhféadfadh sé a bheith níos fearr. B’fhéidir go mbeimid ag déileáil leis sin trí leasuithe ag Céim an Choiste. Is Bille tábhachtach é an Bille seo ó thaobh comhionannais pá de idir fhir agus mhná agus comhionannais maidir le meas a thaispeáint do dhaoine. We will support this Bill, although with reservations and we will introduce a number of amendments on Committee Stage. The fight to ensure pay equality is another step in the battle to ensure equality between men and women. I note, and I think it is unfortunate, that the Labour Party Bill, which essentially sought to achieve the same objective, is already at a very advanced stage. I refer to the debate we had on the last piece of legislation and the fact that Private Members’ legislation, to which amendments were tabled, passed through all Stages and will now be commenced and will become law. It is unusual, given that a Bill has passed through all Stages in the Seanad, including Second, Committee and Report Stages, and has proceeded to the Dáil, not to work with that legislation rather than start again. That is unfortunate. We are starting with this legislation now and I may be wrong but it is possible this Government may not be in a position to pass it through all Stages. I do not know what plans the Minister or Fianna Fáil have. We shall see. It would have been more efficient and better in terms of procedure to work with a Bill that was already in train.

That being the case, if the Minister intends to stay the course with this legislation, I ask that it be prioritised. It is a vitally important piece of work. We have travelled a long way in terms of equality idir fhir agus mhná le blianta beaga anuas, ó thaobh an vóta céad bliain ó shin agus i gcoinne na mbac a bhí ann ó thaobh pósadh sa Státseirbhís go dtí tríocha nó daicead bliain ó shin. We recently had the fight to repeal the eighth amendment that caused so much harm and suffering to women over more than 30 years. We now have this fight for equal pay. It is an issue right across the world. It is starker perhaps in other parts of the world than it is here but is quite significant here. According to the World Economic Forum, it would take 217 years to close the economic agenda gap globally. It is quite significant in Ireland. With a gap of 13.9%, it would take 55 years to close the gender pay gap in this jurisdiction, if we were to continue to do things in the same way. That cannot be the case and we must change.

This Bill is a mechanism that has been introduced in other jurisdictions. Britain has gender pay gap reporting and similar proposals have been implemented in other EU countries and in the United States. Measures similar to the ones proposed here are due to be signed off for the North in the coming months. We welcome these moves. They are not as a silver bullet, and many other issues need to be addressed. I would highlight that a gender pay gap does not necessarily tell the whole story about the structural inequalities that exist within an economy. If one takes the example of a childcare centre, which I think I raised with the Minister previously, where many of the employees are likely to be on low pay, if there are any men employed in it, the pay gap between men and women within that employment is likely to be quite low, if there is any. That does not reflect the fact that there is a structural inequality between the professions in which women are commonly employed and men are more commonly employed. This legislation does not necessarily deal with that. It feeds into the point that Deputy O'Callaghan made, to which I will return because it was quite an interesting one.

This Bill rightly reflects the responsibilities that employers have to tackle inequality within their employments, but there are also structural issues which go beyond any one job or employment. It is right to shine a light on those businesses that might be fearful of the Bill's provisions – wrongly, I believe – and in which there is a significant pay difference, which is in inexplicable in some circumstances. This is a way to bring pressure to bear and to shine a light on those who are making no effort to ensure equal treatment.

Having regard to that, and the fact businesses with over 50 employees only make up half of the number of businesses in the State, we will be moving amendments on Committee Stage to increase the number of companies required to report under this legislation to include companies with 20 or more employees given that we believe that the more data that exists, the better the actions that can be taken to address the malaise of unequal pay on the basis of gender. I will not labour the point about why we need the close the gender gap. It is self-evident and is obviously necessary. There will be few dissenting voices in Irish society and within these Houses in that regard.

We know equality benefits to the economy and families by increasing the take-home pay of women with some projections in Britain estimating that women's earnings could increase by £85 million on foot of measures such as this, which is a staggering amount of ground that could be made up. There is not just one aspect to this. A suite of measures is needed in order to cancel out what has been described as a motherhood penalty, which includes: improving shared parental leave; childcare that is affordable for parents and wraparound childcare, points we dealt with in the previous debate; and carrying out the work to ensure that flexible work practices become the norm. Maternity benefit as a percentage of pay in this State is still one of the lowest in the EU. Increases in this payment should be a priority for the Government, in seeing to the welfare of mothers and ensuring they have greater flexibility and options.

The content of the Bill is relatively concise but we believe it needs to be strengthened. The information specified in section 2 refers the mean and median gap in hourly pay between men and women, the mean and median gap in bonus pay between men and women, the mean and median gap in hourly pay, the percentage of men and women receiving bonus pay, and the percentage of men and women who receive benefits in kind. While we believe this is reflective of the information required, we will table an amendment to ensure a full gender breakdown of all those employed, both part-time and full-time, in an attempt to achieve a fuller picture of the gaps and disparity that exists within companies more generally.

There is also a need to ensure that the area of partnerships and forms of employment such as that are dealt with. This point was discussed at the pre-legislative hearings in committee. Section 2 provides for a phased or staggered roll-out of the requirement for companies and employers to report with companies with 150 or more benefiting from a delay in their need to report and comply with the legislation. We believe this is unnecessary and it is something of which employers have been aware for some time. We will seek to amend this in order to do away with what we believe is a two-tiered approach and have all employers subject to the legislation once it comes to pass.

Our party moved an amendment to the Labour Party Bill to ensure that where a company does not comply with the legislation by refusing to publish data, the company's title would be published by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and we will again table a similar amendment to this Bill. At the time the amendment was debated, both Senator Bacik and the Minister of State indicated that any measure to take a "name and shame" approach should be complemented by a "name and fame" approach, listing companies that actively address the issue of the gender pay gap. I have no difficulty with that and I am certainly willing to consider it. I hope the Minister of State will consider that there is a need for both recognition and holding people to account. Publicity can be as powerful as any fine in this regard and although there is a role for fines, the focus must be on shining a light and putting pressure on companies to comply, particularly those which actively discriminate.

There are many other issues that must be addressed in tackling the gender pay gap. As I stated, reporting of this kind will not address the overall gender pay gap. The points reflected upon by Deputy O'Callaghan are true, and there is increasing inequality in how the global economy functions and major companies pay their staff. We can look at models of employment such as that pursued by Amazon and the way it treats some of its low-paid employees in some distribution centres is quite worrying. It is something of which we must be aware. A factor is falling union density so I urge anybody following this debate to join a union. It is an insurance policy that a person may never need to use but it is always worth having a union card in one's pocket. Workers are stronger when they stand together and negotiate with an employer together. It needs to be emphasised more in Irish society.

The Government can take action to support union membership by ensuring there is better legislation on union recognition. The tax deductibility of union contributions is another factor and perhaps incentives could be created for employers who recognise unions. If we are serious about pay inequality and realise that gender inequality is real and needs to be tackled, we must also recognise that there is inequality in pay generally. There must be support to ensure workers can organise freely and fairly in a democratic society. The Government should encourage that as much as possible. It is a key element of tackling the inequality issue.

As I mentioned, the legislation we discussed immediately before this debate is relevant and the practice of shared parental leave is a step towards the idea of equality that would primarily benefit certain sections of society. We need a range of measures to counteract the real effects of austerity and its impact on working class women in particular. We need a serious conversation about how working class women and families have often shouldered the burden of austerity and cutbacks and how we want to assist them. There is also the matter of those with unequal or insecure work.

Ba mhaith liom a rá arís go dtacaím leis an mBille agus go bhfuil súil agam a bheith ag obair leis an Aire Stáit ag Céim an Choiste ionas gur féidir linn dul ar aghaidh leis an díospóireacht sin chomh luath agus is féidir.

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