Better Pay for Women - Not Gesture Politics

What drove me into politics was a determination to see people treated fairly in the workplace irrespective of their gender, heritage, background or disabilities.

A job is perhaps the best stake in society that one can have. A diverse mix of people in the workplace does more to break down social stigma, disharmony and unfair discrimination as employers and employees recognise that, fundamentally, everyone shares the same hopes and aspirations.

I want everyone to be able to participate in our economy and help build our national prosperity. If we are to continue to make progress then women, men, minorities, those with disabilities and mental health challenges and those from less-advantaged backgrounds must all have the opportunity to find work, gain experience and share in the proceeds of Britain’s success.

The pay gap between men and women has fallen dramatically over the years. The question now is how do we measure any remaining gap and continue to make progress, not just for women but for everyone?

This week, a bill was brought before Parliament that would introduce new legislation to force private businesses to publish their pay records in an attempt to determine the level of any pay gap between men and women.

I simply could not support this proposal because it is nothing more than well-meaning but counter-productive gesture politics of the worst kind.

First, there simply isn’t enough time to introduce this legislation before the election.

Secondly, Labour’s proposal would place yet more time-consuming and onerous reporting regulations on businesses which undermine their profitability. Regulations kill productive jobs and businesses, since submitting regular reports to Government departments will eat into valuable time and resources.

Thirdly, why does the bill only mention gender? There may well be greater disparities for those with disabilities and mental health challenges and for those from minorities or disadvantaged backgrounds,

Fourthly, non-discrimination legislation is already on the statute books. It’s already illegal to discriminate unfairly so further legislation is superfluous.

Finally, there is a better way to analyse pay differentials that are both less expensive and more useful.

Rather than introducing a crude and bureaucratic proposal that will burden more than 7,000 British-based companies, we should surely first ensure that public bodies publish their own salary records. This is something that Governments can readily deliver and if it proves useful then a well-refined and efficient reporting structure could be rolled out to private businesses. The logical starting place is to get our own house in order first.

Treating women and minorities equally well at work is a duty. Imposing burdensome regulations is a guaranteed way of sapping the enthusiasm of those who already pay their female employees equal amounts because it is the right thing to do. And it makes sense economically.

The Internet has made it easier for jobseekers to use their collective weight to force companies to change. Already, there are websites where employees can compare their salaries to their counterparts in other companies. This is a great tool for employees to demand fair treatment. The power an employee has is to be able to seek a job elsewhere in a competitive jobs market.

Society has moved on considerably in the past 40 years. Women and minorities are treated with much more respect than they were just a few decades ago. And this is thanks to evolving social attitudes. Forcing top-down compliance undermines the goodwill and public duty that help drive change in attitudes.

I have optimism that over the next few years, thanks to improving attitudes and better workplace atmospheres in business, more women will form a key part of companies' and management structures.

Women can be better employees than men in the same role.  Equal pay must not be a straight-jacket. It makes business sense not to pay women equally at times, but to pay them more than another male employee in order to adequately reflect their greater contribution to business success. That is the logical and positive change I want to see. And I am optimistic, that through the actions of private individuals, rather than the government, these hopes will become a reality.

It is a very stupid employer that does not employ the best person for the job, and it would be a very stupid government that introduces unnecessary legislation to force private businesses to do what they will naturally seek to do if they are to compete and stay in business.


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