Gender pay audits: government to try voluntary route first, option for mandatory audits remains

In news this morning Home Office minister and Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone said that the government would be looking to get voluntary agreement from industry for gender pay audits, which would reveal cases of unreasonably disparity in pay between men and women. An attempt to introduce voluntary agreement previously fell apart under the Labour government.

There is also unimplemented legislation on the statue book to allow for mandatory pay audits. The legislation was introduced by Labour, but not brought into force (nor were they any immediate plans from Labour to do so).

Whilst the government is not moving straight away to mandatory audits, it pointedly is not proposing to abolish the mandatory option. In other words, the message to industry is – make proper efforts to reach voluntary agreement or face mandatory legal enforcement if you don’t.

In the past Lynne has made very bullish comments about the need for mandatory action and a majority Liberal Democrat government would have had a policy commitment along similar lines. However, the party is in coalition and given the party’s unfortunate habit of reaching for the statue book as a matter of first rather than last resort (a point Lynne too has made on other occasions), trying voluntary action first is a sensible move – provided there is real teeth to the threat of legal action if the different players take the same approach as they did under Labour.

The question of whether or not men and women are paid equally for equivalent jobs is one on which there is a huge gender gap in public opinion, as MORI’s polling from December last year showed:

The poll found that 52% of people disagree with the statement that men and women receive the same pay for doing jobs of equal value. Overall 40% think that men and woman are paid equally. There is however a big gender gap – 48% of men think men and women are paid equally but only 32% of women.

Yet as Lynne Featherstone has previously blogged:

All too often equal pay is seen as just a women’s issue, but what about the business culture where it is frowned upon for a man to take emergency time off to look after a sick child who has been sent home from nursery? More often than not this duty seems to fall on the mother. The implications of this mentality will ripple throughout her career and will ultimately be reflected in her (and his) pay.

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  • Like I have said in previous posts, Lynne Featherstone is showing herself to be a very poor champion for women. If there is evidence to show that the very same people who made a voluntary system impossible, are now willing to make it work, then I would very much like to see it. After all, we wouldn’t expect this decision to be made in the absence of evidence would we?

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Dec '10 - 2:51pm

    I know Featherstone is seen in the party as some kind of cross between Cheryl Cole and the late Queen Mother but really, how does she get away with it? She gave a pitiful performance in parliament when she was forced to give a statement on the dropping of the “socio-economic duty” and now this.

  • Rearrange these words into appropriate sentence


  • Doesn’t surprise anyone – another LibDem u-turn.

  • gramsci's eyes 2nd Dec '10 - 10:09pm

    “trying voluntary action first is a sensible move – provided there is real teeth to the threat of legal action” – That is an oxymoron.

    Anyway, you don’t really believe any of the above.

    Take that as a compliment.

  • As has been noted: Another LibDem U-turn just to keep the Tories at the top of the (LibDem) party happy. Bless!

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