Monday, 5 July 2021
Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister to the House for the debate on the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019. Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
I welcome the Minister and I thank Senator Boyhan for seconding the amendment. We had a debate on this provision on Committee Stage so I will not delay proceedings. The amendment is about delay and it seeks to ensure the publication of guidance to give effect the Bill's provisions would come in immediately after commencement. This is simply to avoid any further delays in the introduction and implementation of gender pay gap laws.
As I said on Committee Stage, we know employers, trade unions and workers across the country are well aware this legislation is coming and is long overdue. They have been making preparations on this for quite some time and a trade union representative told me last week that many companies had almost given up on it. They had plans in place for gender pay gap reporting and wage transparency some years ago when the Bill was first mooted and when my Bill went through the Seanad and the Dáil. Due to the fact that it has taken so long, the process has stagnated somewhat in different companies. There is a real concern about further delays.
I commend the Minister on his expediency in moving this forward as soon as he took office. Given that there were so many delays before he took office and the long period in which we had to prepare for the Bill's introduction, we wanted to change the text from "as soon as is reasonably practicable" to "immediately". This would give more of a sense of urgency that people across the country are telling us is required.
I am very conscious of time but I want to reiterate what Senator Bacik has said. This is really important and excellent legislation. There would not be much division among Senators in respect of it. It is important to note the valid point made by the Senator and I am happy to support it. Again, I thank the Senator and the Labour Party for the very substantial amendments before us today.
I thank the Senators. I have spoken in this and the Lower House about my commitment to getting this legislation passed and the mechanisms put in place to support it, including regulations and the website, so we can see delivery of this vital information. As Senator Bacik acknowledged, responsibility for this legislation was transferred to my Department in October last year and it was not initially with my Department when I took on this role. In that nine-month period, I prioritised this legislation again because, as Senator Bacik implies, it had taken a long time to germinate to its current position. We put on the pressure internally and with great assistance from my officials, we discussed in May this year how we could ensure it would be prioritised. We have delivered the legislation and it is my absolute commitment that we will deliver the regulations as swiftly as possible.
The term used is "as soon as reasonably practicable", which is typical of what is used in legislation of this sort. As I have said, I have put it on record in both Houses that there will be no delay on my Department's side in both drawing up and providing these regulations. They will be detailed so we cannot just pretend that by putting in the term "immediately", everything will suddenly be done. There is a detailed set of regulations and there is very significant primary legislation listing the various types of categories under which reporting must take place. That must be elucidated further in the regulations, which will take some time to complete, but there will be no delay or foot dragging. We will also look to get the request for tender for the website developed as quickly as possible. The website is going to be really important as well as this is how we publicise which companies are adhering to or making efforts towards addressing the gender pay gap in their spheres.
This House has my absolute commitment to move on this as quickly as possible and I am happy to be accountable to this House on that as we move to the next term. The change being proposed is not necessary and would not make the process go any more quickly. As such, I ask Senators not to press this amendment.
I thank the Minister for his very clear response and commitment to have the regulations introduced as swiftly as possible and without delay. I thank him for clarifying that. There has been a pattern at every stage of the debate on this Bill and when I brought my related legislation through the Seanad and my colleagues steered it through the Dáil.We have sought to work constructively with Government to bring forward the important principle that we would see gender pay gap reporting put in place. We put down the amendments with that intention. I must say that I thought others might have amendments down too but I am glad we put down amendments just to press the point about the need for urgency and the fact that across sectors there is readiness for this legislation. Indeed there is more than readiness. People are well prepared. This was the reason I raised the Commencement matter on 8 March. We certainly will be holding the Minister to account once the legislation is passed to ensure it is brought into effect as soon as possible. I take the Minister's point that he does not intend to see any delays on that. I will withdraw the amendment on that basis. I thank the Minister for his very clear response.
Again, I raised this issue on Committee Stage. I thank SIPTU for raising with me the need to ensure there is explicit recognition of the role of trade unions in making this legislation effective across workplaces and in working constructively to ensure we address the gender pay gap. We are all conscious of the 14% gender pay gap that persists in this country and the fact that so many women see this inequity at a collective level. Because of that, we want to ensure there is a place in the legislation for trade unions and a recognition of their role in making the legislation truly effective. That is the purpose of these three amendments combined.
I see, understand and recognise the important role of the trade union movement in bringing this legislation to this position where it soon will pass through this House and soon will be sent to the President for signature. I have engaged extensively with trade unions on this and other legislation since I took office. I place real value on that ongoing dialogue with the trade union movement, particularly in the context of issues involving gender in the workplace, be it on the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill; on the low pay many childcare professionals, the vast majority of whom are female, earn; or in the context of domestic violence leave. These are all issues on which the Government is working. I have engaged extensively with the trade union movement on all of those points and I value that engagement, as well as the trade union movement's leadership in many ways on many of these issues.
We discussed writing a specific role for trade unions into this legislation on Committee Stage. I have looked at the Labour Party amendments. I did make reference on Committee Stage to the fact that the EU directive to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women is being looked at in the context of the European institutions. There are indications in the early draft that some role for the trade union movement may be explicitly inserted into that legislation and, therefore, there may be a requirement on member states. It remains my view that I am content to wait and see what will be the specific position given to the trade union movement occasioned from that piece of EU law because we could implement something now that would be quite different from or at variance with the role envisaged by the European institutions and required of us under EU law. As the Senator is aware, there is a provision in the legislation to allow for its review after four years. Hopefully, the particular element of EU law we are discussing will be implemented before then but if not, we will have the opportunity at that review to consider whether there needs to be a specific reference to a role for the trade unions in terms of how companies address the gender pay gap that is revealed through the publication of this information.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to insert paragraph (d) into the proposed section 20A(1) that would require employers that are party to a collective agreement with a recognised trade union or staff association to consult with the trade union or staff association concerned prior to and following the publication of the gender pay gap information. I flagged on Committee Stage that I was concerned that there was no clear detail as to the purposes of those particular consultations. In particular, when dealing with primary legislation, I felt it would be important that there be clear elucidation. Were we to put this in, there should be a clearer elucidation of what those discussions and engagements would be about. I also made the point, which I repeat, that there is nothing to stop an employer in the public or private sector engaging with recognised trade unions or staff associations prior to or following the publication of this information. In particular, in the case of employers where the publication of that information reveals significant gaps, such consultation could be useful. At this point, in the context of there not being complete clarity in terms of what those consultations would require and where EU law may require something more specific or generalised in respect of the role of the trade union movement in these negotiations, the amendment proposed today is not the appropriate way to go and I ask Senators not to support it.
My concern relates to section 20A(3)(a), which states that regulations made under this section shall not apply to an employer with fewer than 50 employees. Gender pay discrimination is a serious issue. As we know, the Bill aims to tackle the existence of pay discrimination but could this section permit employers with fewer than 50 employees to legally discriminate against employees on a gender basis? Are there plans to amend the section in order that employers are not allowed to engage in pay discrimination based on gender?
I thank the Minister for his comments about the amendments and I take the point about the directive. Indeed I noted that on Committee Stage. However, there is concern in the trade union movement that the voluntarist model of collective bargaining in industrial relations has not necessarily served its members as well as it could. This is a problem we face at broader level. The Minister says there is nothing to stop employers consulting with unions but the problem is that all too often, we have seen a need for a stronger compulsion and stronger supports in statute for collective bargaining. That is a more general comment. I will not press the amendment but I thank SIPTU for raising the issue with me. I know the Minister has engaged with SIPTU and other unions. It is crucial that trade unions are engaged with extensively on the implementation of this legislation. Senator Maria Byrne referred to amendment No. 5 relating to the number of employees. This is a different point but nonetheless it is an important one.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 4, to delete line 34 and substitute the following:"employer’s case,
(d) employers who are party to a collective agreement negotiated with a recognised trade union or staff association to consult with the trade union or staff association concerned both prior to and following upon the publication of the information referred to in this section."
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, to delete lines 38 to 41, and in page 5, to delete lines 1 to 10 and substitute the following:"(3) Regulations made under this section shall not apply to an employer having fewer than 20 employees.".
Again, this amendment arises from the debate on Committee Stage and this issue has been debated extensively over the years since I first introduced gender pay gap legislation in this House. As soon as it was enacted, my Bill would have applied to all organisations with 50 or more employees. In that regard, we were simply taking the model of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission legislation, which has a similar remit for all organisations with 50 or more employees.We believe that was the right number at the time. To initiate the legislation with respect only to bigger employers would miss a large number of employees. We are disappointed, therefore, that the Government’s legislation will only come into effect incrementally and will only apply to organisations with 50 or more employees after some years. Given the years of gestation and preparation, it would be appropriate to move the threshold down to 20 employees, as provided for in this amendment. Other Opposition parties had similar amendments on Committee Stage.
There are many small firms in Ireland with small numbers of employees. In Finland and Sweden the thresholds are 30 employees and ten employees, respectively. Clearly, allowances must be made to ensure there are no breaches of identity and that the data are anonymised, but again we can see this being done elsewhere in countries with many small firms. I reintroduced this amendment on Report Stage to highlight this point. We are concerned, as is the trade union movement and the National Women’s Council of Ireland, NWCI, at the slow pace of expansion of the legislation to cover smaller companies.
As the Senator said, the proposed amendment to section 2 would reduce the reporting exemption from employers with more than 50 employees to employers with more than 20 employees and remove the incremental aspect of the roll-out. We spoke at some length on Committee Stage about the gestation of this Bill and the degree of engagement which took place between previous Ministers, employer organisations, trade unions and NGOs, especially those representing women. An approach was agreed which allowed for an incremental roll-out, specifically recognising that smaller companies would have a less well-developed human resources, HR, infrastructure and many would also be less well able to deal with the significant reporting requirements we are instituting with this legislation.
As Senator Bacik pointed out, employers have been waiting for this legislation for some time and, in fairness, they have been waiting for this version of it. There is a legitimate expectation in respect of how this legislation will be rolled out. To change that significantly now would be a major move, and one which I have considered. I have thought about the arguments put forward by the Senator and others in their contributions in this House in recent weeks. While the larger companies may have the requisite infrastructure in place to begin their reporting requirements immediately, I do not believe smaller companies will be so well prepared. One consideration in any legislation like this, and it is only one consideration, must be its cost and administrative burden on employers.
We are all aware, especially during these times of Covid-19, that many SMEs have gone through a difficult time in the last 15 months. Senator Seery Kearney drew attention to the research done by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, which highlighted the administrative burden that suddenly extending the scope of this legislation to all employers would have on smaller organisations, especially those without a designated HR capacity. It is my view that the proposal being brought forward here is unduly onerous at this stage. I also referred to the identification of the salaries of individual employees and the concern to ensure pseudonymisation was achieved. It must also be remembered that we amended the Bill on Report Stage in the Dáil to allow for a review of its overall functioning to take place after four years. That will be a good opportunity to consider whether we need to bring the thresholds down further.
Regarding Senator Byrne’s comment regarding those in firms with fewer than 50 employees being at risk of discrimination, it must be remembered that it is at all times against the equality legislation to discriminate on the grounds of gender. This legislation does not change that. It is concerned with information and the provision of specific information regarding differences in pay. It is never acceptable and definitely not legal to discriminate on the grounds of gender in respect of pay. I put that reminder on the record of the House.
We will have the opportunity to examine the impact of equality legislation as I recently announced a review. It is great legislation and has served us well but the review will be a useful exercise in looking again at the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 to see how we can continue to strengthen and protect the most vulnerable groups in our society. I look forward to engaging with Senators on that review.
The Minister has made all the relevant points. To have a threshold of fewer than 20 employees at this point would be unduly onerous. It is not necessary just now. Having said that, it will be a very valuable aspect to examine in the four-year review of the legislation and how it is rolling out. I reassure Senator Byrne that the Employment Equality Act 1998 does not allow any discrimination on the basis of gender. Equally, given that there is a greater prevalence of part-time work among women, the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 instituted a requirement that part-time workers be given all the same conditions as full-time employees. That protection has is also in place. The thrust of this Bill is to ensure transparency and the publication of information by larger companies, rather than to undermine or embellish what is already a requirement and well rehearsed in all employment forums as a protection for female workers.
I welcome the Minister to the House. We had extensive conversations on this issue on Committee Stage but I will reiterate some of the points because they are arising here again. We have been waiting for this legislation since 2017, and most of us have probably been waiting for it most of our working lives as women.
It is important that we now move ahead with the Bill. I thank the Minister for accepting an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil because the review will be key. We must not renegotiate something else at this point or postpone this for another three or four years. We need this legislation enacted and in place now. It gives us transparency and an understanding of what is happening across the board in companies.
It is not legal to discriminate. Having said that, it is difficult for individual employees within companies to take cases and that is why this legislation is important. This is an historic day. We finally have this Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 before the House and, hopefully, it will pass today. I anticipate that all Senators will support it, and some of us just have these small issues with it.
Companies have been preparing for this legislation for years. As I said on Committee Stage, it has been companies of a certain size which have been preparing for and expecting this legislation to come into effect. Smaller companies were never to be included, so they have not been preparing and ramping up for it. We must give them time to do that. Perhaps when we come to review the legislation we will see that things have changed and companies will have more capacity and administrative capacity. I hope at that stage companies will see how well the legislation is working, how well this kind of transparency reflects on companies and perhaps then those smaller companies might take the leap. The review might perceive that and take it on board.
I echo the sentiments expressed by other Senators. We do want to get to the point where companies with fewer than 50 employees will be part of this benchmarking. There is nothing to stop them doing it voluntarily but we do have to consider, with all of the pressures they are under, especially at present, whether they have the HR infrastructure to cope. There is also the capacity and resources in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. It will have a role in this, as it is enabled to apply to the Circuit Court for an order requiring employers to comply with the regulations. This is something we will have to monitor as part of the review in the context of whether employers have the existing capacity to deal with this. Employers need to be taken into consideration but this is wide-ranging legislation and we need to consider how we support it from an infrastructural point of view. I agree with the sentiment. We are moving in the right direction and, as Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, it is an historic day.
I thank colleagues who have spoken on the amendment. In particular, I acknowledge, as Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, that this is historic and I very much welcome the legislation. I will absolutely be working constructively with the Government to ensure it passes swiftly. I assure the Minister of that. I will not seek to delay it in any way. Reflecting on the comments of Senator Pauline O'Reilly, it is almost 50 years since we passed the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act in 1974, which was supposed to herald an end to all pay discrimination for women. Women in Ireland have been waiting a very long time to see that bear fruit in terms of equality of pay. This is the reality. That Act, which requires individual employees to take action when they experience individual discrimination, simply does not work to address collective pay inequity. This is why we need this wage transparency legislation, which we have seen work in other jurisdictions. It has been in place in some jurisdictions for many years. We have good models.
My Bill was introduced in the Seanad in May 2017, four years ago. That was already at a point when legislation was in place in Britain and companies here were all gearing up and preparing. Unfortunately, there has been a really unnecessary delay in introducing this. I do not in any way hold the Minister responsible for this because he has acted very swiftly on it. It is unfortunate that we have seen such a long delay and that it has contributed to the delays the National Women's Council has spoken about. The National Women's Council speaks about it taking 270 years to get to pay equality if we do nothing. I am very glad we are doing something. This is historic. The reason I have tabled the amendments is not to delay the Bill but rather to emphasise the urgency of making this law effective.
These amendments seek to create more peremptory language on the regulations, and that regulations shall prescribe the form and manner in which information is to be published. Again, it is to address the issue I raised on Committee Stage. This is very much a facilitative Bill and does not provide very much by way of detail as to how the regulations will take effect, what duties will be on employers and how the pay transparency guidelines will be enforced. The Minister mentioned the lack of detail in my proposed amendment earlier with regard to consultation with trade unions. We are seeing very little detail in the provisions of the Bill as it stands, as to how it will take effect. I thanked the Minister on Committee Stage for setting out in a little more detail, for example, the idea of the website. If one were to read the language of the Bill there really is very little guidance for employers, unions or women in workplaces as to exactly how the legislation is to take effect and what the regulations will contain. It is expressed in such general and less peremptory terms. We are simply seeking to highlight this point by substituting the word "shall" for that of "may" in the two places where it arises in the provision.
I would not entirely agree with Senator Bacik on the lack of detail in the Bill, particularly when we look at section 20A(1)(a) and 20A(1)(b) and the various criteria. There are eight criteria. Section 20A(4) contains more details on how the regulations will be shaped. I would not entirely agree with the Senator. We have put in quite a significant amount of detail in terms of what will be covered in these regulations. I accept and I take the bona fides of the Senator in terms of her desire to ensure there is a robust reporting requirement and that it is as broad and far-reaching as possible. This is an intention I share. I will be keeping this vision in mind when we design the regulations. Subsections (4) to (9), inclusive, of section 20A are drafted in such a way as to allow some degree of flexibility when drafting the regulations, should that be necessary.
As I have said, the regulations will need to be clear and specific. It is my intention that they will contain all of the information listed in subsections 20A (4) to (9), inclusive, unless an issue arises at the drafting stage that might need some degree of flexibility. It is for this purpose that we will provide for some degree of flexibility in terms of using the word "may" rather than "shall". In legislation and regulations as detailed as these will need to be, this degree of flexibility is important.
As I have said, the Bill provides for a flexible framework for the regulations. The policies and principles are clearly listed in the sections I outlined earlier. We want to avoid a situation where strictly adhering to the wording may cause confusion for those impacted by the regulations or create some degree of impossibility or another anomaly. By using the word "may" instead of "shall", we give the drafters of the regulations some degree of flexibility, which is within the context of the significant detail set out in the primary legislation in terms of what these regulations must encompass. The Senator has a subsequent amendment dealing with the issue of the website and we can perhaps discuss that later.
Any time I speak on Committee or Report Stages I am always honest, even with our own Minister, and I point out what I think could be changed in a Bill. It is very important that we have flexibility. If we pass legislation that does not have flexibility when it comes to regulations, we will be no longer able to make regulations that are robust and exactly fit for purpose. It is only at the time we sit down to make regulations that we can really truly see how to make them as robust as possible. We are fortunate that we have a Minister who has pulled out all of the stops to put the Bill in front of us in a very timely manner. Everybody in the House has recognised this. It is the same Minister who will be involved in the regulations. Therefore, I trust that he needs this flexibility and we need to make sure it is as robust as possible. An amendment has been accepted on Report Stage that will ensure it can be reviewed. Given all of this, I am perfectly satisfied that it must be the word "may" rather than "shall".
I thank the Minister but I respectfully disagree. Section 20A, as he Minister said, sets out the content of the information and it is great that we have this clarity but the lack of clarity I am referring to is about how it is to be conveyed. Let me put these questions. Will it be on a website? The Minister clarified on Committee Stage that the information would be generated on our website. Who will administer this website? Will it be a central website? Will it be individual websites of employers? My next amendment addresses this. Who will maintain and check the data published on the website? Who will keep it updated? Who will put out the press releases about it. I accept that of course some flexibility is required but I am concerned.There is an over-reliance on flexibility at the expense of clarity for employers and employees on how this will take effect. We know the data the employers will be obliged to provide, but to whom will they provide it and how will it be administered is the key question. To be fair, it was one of the key questions that Ministers in the previous Government raised with me in regard to my Bill. Under my Bill, IHREC was given the role of collecting the data from employers, publishing it, monitoring it and enforcing it in regard to breaches and so on. We were very clear in that legislation on how the publication of gender pay gap information would be managed. The then Minister and Government said that it was not an appropriate function for IHREC and that it would require a great deal of extra resourcing for IHREC. I accepted that point, but what we were seeking to do was to provide clarity on how this provision would take effect. Looking at other jurisdictions, that is a crucial question. This is not just about detail as to the information that employers provide, it is also about the detail as to how the legislation will take effect. The day-to-day mechanisms of who collects the data is critical. The provision in subsections (4) and (5) do not outline in a clear fashion exactly what the regulations will provide with regard to classes of employer, classes of employee and so on, let alone how the data will be maintained. The concern is the lack of clarity in this regard in the legislation. That is a fair point to make. We also had much stronger enforcement powers for IHREC in the original shape of the legislation. We are concerned not to see any of that in this legislation. We are also concerned that when the Bill is passed, there will still be a lack of certainty about how it will take effect.
I am not sure that replacing "may" with "shall", as proposed in this amendment, will have a huge impact in terms of the detail of the running. I do not mean that as a criticism of the points the Senator is making. I spoke briefly on the website, but I note the Senator has another amendment on it. We will be setting up a centralised website. Employers are welcome to publish their gender pay gap data on their own websites if they so wish, but there will be one centralised website, which will probably be the most significant part in terms of being able to demonstrate and compare data. It is hoped it will have searchability functions in order that it will be possible to compare which companies have the greatest gap and the least gap and the like. The view at the moment is that my Department will administer that website. As I said, we will be putting out the request for tender on that shortly. The website will take a bit of work. I understand that on its first day the UK version had so many hits it crashed. We want to avoid that type of situation. The website will be used as a central element in disseminating this really important information, allowing a recognition of good practice and highlighting those employers whose practices are resulting in their female employees receiving significantly less pay than their male counterparts.
Returning to the question of replacing "may" with "shall", as proposed in the amendment, I emphasise again the importance of having some degree of flexibility in the design of these regulations. There will be a degree of complexity in the regulations in terms of meeting the various criteria set out in section 20(A). I believe it is necessary in this section to provide the degree of flexibility that is provided by "may" rather than "shall".
This amendment is related to amendments Nos. 6 and 7 and later amendment No. 9, in which we are seeking to establish a little more detail and clarity on how the legislation will take effect. I thank the Minister for confirming that there will be a centralised website. My question is in regard to who will administer that website. Under whose auspices or remit will it fall? Will it be Revenue, the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, or some other organisation? I ask the Minister to confirm what body or authority will administer the website.
I note that the Minister said that employers will be free to publish on their own websites. The purpose of amendment No. 8 is to make that clear. There is still a lack of certainty and clarity for employers and workers alike with regard to where the centralised data will be held and who will do the work to draw the comparisons that we have seen so powerfully made, for example on the British and Australian websites. In other jurisdictions, we have seen a new agency established to run the website and collate the data. I accept it is a massive task and that is why in our legislation we proposed to devolve that function to IHREC. We do not get a sense in this Bill of who the task is being devolved to. That is the key point.
I have some sympathy for the proposal made by Senator Bacik but the wording "if they maintain a website" is not practical when so many industries are living completely on LinkedIn and do not have websites. In the age of social media, where they are present, it is too precise. However, the point regarding is who will maintain it is an important one. I would like to think that a presence on a centralised website, as described by the Minister, would be pointed to for reputational enhancement as well as the actual effect of bringing equity of pay. When prescribing the regulations, the Minister should ensure the reference to that centralised website is within ethical audits that are easily accessible and searchable and also something to which the WRC in the context of an inspection would go to ensure the publication of the details is in order, which I have no doubt it will be. I know that the reference to the WRC is already there, hence my point.
As I said on Committee Stage and earlier, there will be a centralised website. That is the most appropriate way in which this information would be conveyed. Whereas I fully understand the proposal in the context of the lack of reference to a website in the primary legislation, I have a concern in regard to what Senator Bacik is seeking to achieve here. I am concerned that in putting in that provision, even if only permissive, it would take away from the importance of the centralised website as the go-to source for information on gender pay information. If we emphasise what companies put up on their own websites, there will be companies that do and others that do not. Those who do have websites and a good story to tell will make that story front and centre. They will do that irrespective of this legislation, but those who do not have a good story to tell will obviously bury the detail behind frequently asked questions or something like that, where it will not be very accessible. If we legislate that the centralised website is to be the go-to source for this particular piece of information, it will ensure that companies, whether their story is positive or negative, will be listed there and current and potential employees will go to that source. As stated by Senator Seery Kearney, the information there will become a key element in how we understand a company's compliance under a range of areas. We are doing work on that website. As I said, my Department will lead out in terms of the design and construction of the website.We have some further work to do in coming to a final decision regarding the compilation of the information but I believe that centralised website will become a valuable resource. It will be the tangible outcome of this legislation, once it is passed and we have had the opportunity to draft the regulations and draw up the tender documents for the development of the website.
I thank the Minister for his response. If I understand correctly, the website will be under the remit of his Department, although there is still a lack of clarity on that. I was struck by the fact that, as a colleague has pointed out, while it will be this Minister making the regulations, the Bill provides for whoever the Minister is to have the power make regulations. There may be too much flexibility as to the shape and form of the regulations and different Ministers may interpret the provisions very differently in the future. That is why it is so important to have more clarity in the primary legislation. I will just make that general point. I thank the Minister for setting out some more detail on the website although it is still not quite clear who is going to administer it and under whose remit it will be. It was helpful to hear something more about it.
The same principle underpins this amendment. It seeks to establish a little more clarity as to the detail of the process by which employers will publish information. Again, the current wording is rather vague. It reads "which shall not be more frequent than once in each year". We are saying that it should be "at least annually". This would give employers and workers alike a little more clarity.
This amendment to the proposed new section 20A(5) seeks to ensure that the reporting of the gender pay gap information by employers occurs annually. The section as drafted provides some assurances to employers that they will not be required to report more often than annually. However, while it is my intention that such reporting will be done annually, the section as drafted provides that level of flexibility to which I referred earlier and allows for such information to be set out in the regulations rather than the Bill. I reiterate that it is my intention to set out clearly the form, manner and frequency of reporting - that frequency being annually - but I would prefer that the final Act remain flexible to accommodate any issues that may arise during drafting or when reporting commences. On that basis, I will seek to retain the existing wording of the legislation and recommend that the amendment be rejected.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 11, line 7, after “request.” to insert “This subsection is without prejudice to the entitlement of the Commission to exercise its powers under this section in any such case of its own motion.”.
This amendment speaks to the enforcement powers, a crucial aspect of the Bill. I was initially somewhat critical of this. Our original Bill had provided for more extensive enforcement and accountability powers through building on the legislative framework for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. While I welcome the fact that section 5 of the Government Bill will give a role in enforcement to IHREC, through this amendment we want to ensure that IHREC would retain the power to exercise its own powers of its own motion. The commission does, in fact, have extensive powers with regard to ordering equality audits and equality reviews in individual organisations to be carried out. It has this power in respect of all organisations with more than 50 employees. We want to strengthen the mechanisms through which IHREC may intervene in the enforcement of this legislation and in making it effective.
I endorse what Senator Bacik has said. As I was reading these 12 amendments, I was conscious that this may very well be the final Bill the Senator passes in the Seanad. I fully endorse what she has said on the issues. She has talked about the need for enforcement powers. I take this opportunity to thank the Senator for her 12 amendments and for the work she has done in respect of this important legislation. It is up to the electorate but it may very well be her last reforming legislation in this important House.
The proposed amendment seeks to ensure that the new section 32(5) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 will not prejudice the entitlement of IHREC to exercise its powers under section 32 in any such case of its own motion. I confirm to Senators that this amendment is not necessary and that the new section 32(5) will not prejudice the entitlement of IHREC to exercise its powers under section 32 in any such case of its own motion. I stated on Committee Stage that the amendment was not necessary. Again, the changes we are making will not prejudice IHREC's existing powers. I accept that it is a point worth clarifying. I hope I have been able to provide that clarification. I suggest that the amendment is not necessary.
Before I call on Senator Bacik to respond, I will ask Senator McDowell to take over the Chair for this final amendment. This is to be his first day in the Chair. Given that the Senator has served as Attorney General and as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he is slightly more qualified for the role than I am. I am sure he will do an excellent job. He will be responsible for reading out the final part of this Bill and taking what could be Senator Bacik's last speech. We hope that will be the case but we are not too sure. We will miss her if she leaves so we might also hope that she stays.
I thank the Minister for confirming again that IHREC will retain the power to intervene of its own accord and of its own motion. That is very important. It may prove to be very important in ensuring the legislation's effectiveness in the future. When drafting our own Bill on the gender pay gap four or five years ago, the Bill introduced in this House in May 2017, we were very conscious that we wanted to build on existing statutory equality frameworks. That is why we drafted our Bill as amending legislation to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. I still believe that is an appropriate framework for introducing effective legislation to address this glaring inequity, the gender pay gap. I am glad to hear the Minister say that, even though he has not adopted the framework we suggested and even though we are somewhat unclear as to who exactly will collate the data and be responsible for maintaining the website and central repository of information, we can at least be assured that IHREC will retain the power to intervene of its own motion and, therefore, will retain that overarching function in monitoring how effective the legislation is in addressing the gender pay gap. That is very welcome.
I thank Senators for doing that so expeditiously. I will, as I am sure one or two Senators also will, be heading out onto the streets of Dublin Bay South with the excellent Councillor Claire Byrne. I feel that that name should get a little outing.
I think back to the McKenna judgment and other such judgments. We should have equality of reference here. I thank Senators for their substantive engagement with me on this legislation over the last weeks. This is a significant day. The passing of this legislation is significant in our journey towards gender equality.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly said that many Senators have waited all their lives for legislation like this. I think it was said in jest but we have to recognise that it is a factor of Irish life that, in many situations, women continue to be paid less than men. It is unacceptable and this legislation is an important step to redress that. It is by no means the only step and, as a society, we have much more to do to ensure full gender equality in the workplace and in many other parts of society. I am proud, as Minister with responsibility for equality, working with colleagues in the context of the programme for Government, to advance issues of gender equality, whether it is this legislation, better pay for those highly-gendered sections of the economy such as childcare, ensuring that women who suffer domestic violence while taking leave to address the situation that they are facing, and many other issues where we are advancing the equality agenda. I have initiated a review of the equality legislation which will take place over the next year. Today is a significant day. Much more work remains to be done but we can recognise that we will have solid infrastructure for reporting of the gender pay gap between male and female employees. This is an important step.
I thank the Acting Chairperson and welcome him to his new role as Chair of the Seanad. It is a good day to take over, when we are passing this important Bill. I thank the Minister for his efficient steering of the Bill through the legislative process and for his courteous and full responses. It has been good to work with him and with all colleagues in the House on this important legislation. It is four years since the Labour Party introduced the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 in the Seanad. It is an important issue for many women and men across the country because it is one way in which women's rights are not adequately recognised and in which we fall short of equal standards in the workplace. That is bad for women and men alike. We have waited for a long time to see this important measure come into effect. I welcome its passage today. I am glad to be here to move amendments which seek to strengthen the legislation and also to highlight the points that we have discussed this afternoon, to ensure that the Bill is treated with urgency and that we see it being brought into effect as swiftly as possible after its passage. I thank my colleague, Senator Boyhan, for seconding the amendments and for his kind words. It is nice to hear those before I return to the streets of Dublin Bay South.
This is a momentous day. I congratulate everyone for the initiatives on this issue and for all of the work over the last years. On a day like today, with the background of the battle of the barristers of Dublin Bay South, we should also note that outside of employment legislation, there are areas where women work where they migrate to the more poorly remunerated roles. My own profession, law, is one of them. There are sections of society where women are still poorly paid. Those who earn more tend to be where the men are. There is still an inherent injustice. While the legislation today plants a flag in the context of employment, there is more work still to do.
I thank the Acting Chairperson. There is no better person to preside over Committee Stage. Others have spoken on this. The Minister has outlined everything that has been done apart from this Bill. It is important to look at this Bill in that context. A number of amendments were about firming up some of the decision-making about gender pay gap legislation. I can understand it when looking at one Bill in isolation. Much has been done in the short time that this Minister has been in office. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has a long record from before even coming into this position. It shows the importance of a good, solid programme for Government to address gender issues and being in government to get those things across the line. We can call for things for decades as women but being in government has made the difference for me in getting them over the line.
I thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. I echo what Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, that this is important and an achievement. It is important to have priorities in government and it is satisfying to get things over the line. Well done to all involved. While the Minister could not accept all the amendments today, I understand that it is important that he makes his case, but I also like the fact that he gives people an opportunity. I do not like the word "reject". I have said that to a number of Ministers when they suggest to the House that they might reject amendments. It is the Minister's proposal and he does not want to change it. It is a word that I would like to caution any Minister about. The House decides. I do not suggest that the Minister does not respect that because of course he does. I thank him because he is always courteous, always listens, and he sets out his rationale and reasoning behind why he might not be in a position to accept an amendment. He made a good case today. I acknowledge that and thank those involved in the passage of this important legislation. This is what we are primarily about. We are about legislation and policy. It is political, not personal.
I thank Senator Bacik for sticking with this for so many years. As Senator Seery Kearney said, we have much more work to do. Let us not sit on our laurels now that we have passed legislation. We have a hell of a lot of work to do on pay and gender equality. That must permeate through every part of our process, thinking and actions in these Houses. I thank the Minister and all the Senators involved in this debate.
It is lovely to address Senator McDowell in the Chair. I am not the spokesperson for equality so I feel like I am gate-crashing Final Stage. I have been invested in this over the years. I left my job because of a lack of flexibility. I recognise that there are more than 60 Bills relating to employment and equality that we will work on. This is the benchmark. It is up to us to then provide the solutions. As Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, that is a core part of the programme for Government. It is apt that I refer to my previous career because I worked in communications. It is up to us as a Government to communicate what best practice is at all times. That is particularly relevant coming out of Covid when there has been so much pressure on people. It has resulted in pressure on women. We will see changes related to flexibility and remote working. There is a role for us in establishing what best practice is or is not. While this is about benchmarking and identifying the problem, we have to be leaders in rolling out solutions and what can work for people.I recognise the work of the WorkEqual campaign of which I am a co-chair. The people involved have done fantastic work in this area over the last few years and have really kept it on the agenda. We should also recognise the importance of this day, not just for the various spokespersons for equality or us as Senators but for everyone. People will be able to go to a website and see how their company performs with respect to the gender pay gap, which is of huge significance. We are going to empower them and that is where I hope to see the cultural change. This is all about cultural change in workplaces. As I said, we should play a role there in assisting them with best practice.