Gender equality took a major leap forward in Ireland in February 1918, with the right to vote being given to some women. As we commemorate the centenary of this event, there has also been welcome debate in relation to other issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace which gave rise to the #metoo movement, and the gender pay gap which has been highlighted across all employment sectors worldwide. In light of International Women’s Day, it is worth reflecting on current draft legislation which seeks to introduce gender pay gap reporting in Ireland and we consider what organisations can do in preparation for the legislation becoming enacted.
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill
Whilst there has been legislation in this area in the form of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act since 1974, it has failed to close the gender pay gap – currently at 13.9% in Ireland. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill (the “Bill”) was initiated in the Seanad in May last year and passed the Committee Stage of the Seanad on 25 October 2017.
The Bill proposes to require certain employers to publish information relating to employees. The aim of this being to highlight any differences in the pay of male and female workers, and the nature and scale of such differences. The information would relate to differences between male and female employees in the following categories:
- the mean hourly rate of pay;
- the median hourly rate of pay;
- the mean bonus pay;
- the median bonus pay;
- the proportions who are paid bonus pay; and
- the proportions who are in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and upper quartile pay bands.
The Bill currently provides for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to be conferred with the power to require employers to carry out pay reviews and for the publication of such reviews for companies with 50 employees or more. Further, an employer who contravenes the provisions and fails to provide the information requested would be guilty of an offence.
Preparing for gender pay gap reporting
Although the explanatory memorandum to the Bill states that it is a diagnostic rather than curative measure, there is no doubt that Ireland is intending to tackle the gender pay gap, in part at least, by means of this legislation. The impact of such gender pay gap reporting will take some time to come to fruition. In the meantime, however, businesses do have an opportunity to begin to review the issue of the gender pay gap within their organisations in order to prepare for the legislation coming into force.
Even at this stage, organisations can review their HR and payroll systems to confirm whether they will allow for the particular data on pay to be extracted easily. Organisations may also want to dig into their data to identify if any gender pay gaps exist and seek to understand the reasons behind this to manage the corporate and reputational risk which may arise from such gaps being published. Further, organisations may wish to review the policies which they have in place to ensure that they do not lend themselves to encouraging a gender pay gap and consider the introduction of measures such as diversity or unconscious bias training.
If organisations can get ahead of the curve in this way, not only can they attempt to mitigate risks when legislation comes into force but they can also deal with any gender pay gap which becomes apparent and encourage equality in pay amongst their workforce. It is also worth remembering that gender discrimination is often a basis for claims in the Workplace Relations Commission and with the heightened awareness in 2018 of disparities in gender treatment and pay, more claims are likely. Tackling the issue head on could result in a lower risk of such cases against organisations.
Contributed by Catherine O’Flynn and Siobhán Lafferty