With the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill the Government is ensuring that companies will need to address the pay gap between men and women. In Ireland many low paid workers are women and can earn 14% less than men.
Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly welcomed the Bill which was brought forward by Green Party Minister Roderic O’Gorman. The aim of the Bill is to provide for a requirement that employers publish certain information on the differences in pay between female and male employees. The provisions of the Bill will initially apply to companies with 250 or more employees, with the threshold reducing to 50 or more over time. The requirement will apply in the private and public sectors once the employment threshold is met.
Speaking in support of the Bill Senator O’Reilly noted that “every year in Ireland, there comes a day when women’s earnings stop and when men’s earnings keep going to the end of the year, effectively at least, because women earn 14% less than men in this country. Last year that date was 9 November. This is often explained away as it is not necessarily that a man and woman doing the same job are earning less than each other, but that women and men may be engaged in different kinds of work so it is often the conditions of their working lives on which a light is being shone”.
She went on to add “women often have periods of uncertainty or they look for flexibility. This is not weakness; it is reality. We have babies, we sometimes want to be at home, we sometimes want flexible working and we also want to feed our families and not to live in poverty. We should never be forced into caring roles because of a lack of childcare – the cost of which is being addressed by the Government and the Minister – or through direct discrimination, as happens when workplaces simply pay us less or subconsciously do not think that we look or sound like what they expect from a worker in a specific role, especially roles at a higher end which pay more”.
“There are certainly cases that are brought to the Workplace Relations Commission where women have been asked, at interview, if they plan to have children. I know one woman who was asked that and did not take a case. The implication is that they might not have what it takes to stay the course. The personal rewards for taking these cases are often nowhere near enough to prompt employees to do it. It is not enough for us as a society to say that that should never happen and that people have their rights under equality legislation and should go off and take a case. We should put in place safeguards to ensure that it does not happen in the first place, which is what this Bill is about. We should not, as individuals, rely on the courts to vindicate our rights under equality legislation but put a greater onus on the State and employers to demonstrate compliance with a set of principles which is laid down, in part, by this legislation”.
O’Reilly continued “there are many practices which, quite apart from this direct discrimination, also indirectly discriminate. The former CEO of Reddit has banned salary negotiations at her company altogether because salary negotiations indirectly discriminate against women. Over our lifetime we continuously earn less in each place we are employed. We are obliged to say what we were earning in our past employment and in our next employment, doing the exact same role as a man in that role, we end up earning less”.
“I note that the Irish Public Appointments Service asks for previous salaries for senior appointments in the public service. It might make sense to reform the public service recruitment processes as an early step in order to do more than just publish the information, but to act to reduce it beyond transparency measures”.
Speaking as the Green Party’s spokesperson for higher education Senator O’Reilly went on to add “only 5% of apprenticeships in the country are taken up by women. That means that we are not doing enough as a State to promote them among women and that we are continuing to say that some forms of work are for women and that some forms are for men.
“The real question is why the work women engage in is paying less than men. Why is the working world often set up to maximise profit instead of ensuring that all work is done in a sustainable way and people of all genders and their children earn enough, regardless of whether they are in paid employment, unpaid employment, caring roles or other roles? We should ensure that we are all paid the same and that we can all make a living for our children and families. We should ensure that the kind of work we are engaged in is not something to be ashamed of. I should not have to feel, if I work in a crèche, that I am any less than somebody working in a male-dominated profession. Unfortunately, that is where we are as a society. If we genuinely want to encourage more men into some roles, then we need to start showing that it is valued. I guarantee that men will step up to the plate in those roles if they feel they are valued professions”.
O’Reilly continued “the Minister knows how much I speak on the issue of unpaid caring labour. That is not what this Bill is here to address but it is at the core of the gender pay gap because women take extensive time out of work. We need to look at measures to promote women going back into the workforce in small businesses as well as large ones because the country relies on small and medium businesses. We have to look at how we support businesses to take women back and to value the experience that they have had, which was added to LinkedIn recently, during the pandemic, which I thought was notable. One can now put an emphasis on work that is at home and put into one’s profile that one is a stay-at-home parent. That means that we are now stepping up as a society. The Citizens’ Assembly has recognised the importance of caring work. In order to promote and help those who are in caring work, we need to make sure that the people who are in caring work are not living in poverty and, more particularly, that their children are not living in poverty”.
O’Reilly concluded “much damage was done with tax individualisation and it is hard to roll back on that. There are also lone parents and damage was done with regard to them by previous Governments. We have to recognise all of that and work our way towards ensuring that we redress that balance so that people, regardless of where they work in the home or outside the home, can make choices based on something other than financial imperatives and putting food on the table. This Bill is a significant step forward. It is in line with many other countries and it is also a large part of what the Citizens’ Assembly examined and encouraged the Government to do. I look forward to the referendums or at least a referendum with several questions in it, which I hope we will pursue in the lifetime of this Government”.