Legislation mandating employers to publish the gender pay gap at their organisations must be reintroduced following its lapse with the dissolution of the last Dáil, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.
The 100-member assembly met remotely on Saturday for the first of two sessions on gender equality. It dealt with areas such as the gender pay gap, low pay, minimum wage, occupational segregation and career advancement.
Among the main issues discussed was the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill of 2019. This required employers to publish information on their gender pay gap and, where a gap was in fact found, to explain the measures being taken to reduce it. The Bill lapsed following dissolution of the Dáil in January.
Prof Helen Russell of the ESRI said in a presentation that the introduction of such "pay transparency legislation" would be an important step in combating discrimination in the workplace.
“The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil, so there is an opportunity to introduce such legislation again,” she said.
National Women’s Council head of policy Jennifer McCarthy Flynn said the State “urgently needs to tackle pay inequality with harder measures such as legislation that provides for pay transparency”.
“The current lack of access to, and transparency around, gender focused data are significant barriers to removing pay inequalities between women and men,” she said.
“The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill would require employers to publish gender pay gap statistics within their organisations, thus identifying pay imbalances and providing opportunity for inequality to be addressed.
“Progressing this legislation needs to be a priority for the Government if we are serious about ending pay inequality for women.”
Prof Russell said the latest data on the mean weekly wage gap between men and women was €847 per week for men as against €635 for women. This equates to a gender pay gap of 25 per cent. The mean hourly gap is 14.4 per cent, and has stalled since 2014.
Among the solutions she put forward were the need to tackle stereotypes and barriers in education. She also suggested the introduction of policies to reduce differences in time spent out of the labour market.
“These could take a variety of forms, including increased availability of flexible work, enhanced leave, improved childcare and adult supports, and greater take-up of care roles and flexible work by men,” she said.
“Education, training and employment supports for women returning to employment may also reduce the pay penalty for career interruptions.”
In terms of the issue of low pay in female-dominated jobs, Prof Russell and others suggested strengthening the minimum wage policy, as well as reducing overall wage inequality by strengthening the role of organised labour.
“Another option is to conduct formal job evaluations, or benchmarking procedures that aim to evaluate different jobs,” she added.
Damian Grimshaw, professor of employment studies at Kings College London, said his "big message" was that "we already know what needs to be done to close the gender pay gap".
“We know what sets of measures are needed,” he said. “We also know it involves the commitment, the energy, and real sense of purpose among governments, employers big and large, as well as unions.
“We know that women have already done a great deal towards this transformative agenda. They’re investing more in education than ever before. Their attachment to employment is very continuous now, more than ever.
“Of course, in the workplace they are doing a great deal to bring to light many areas of perhaps invisible and undervalued skills, and countering all forms of way-outdated sex discrimination and stereotyping.”
Dr Pauline Cullen of NUI Maynooth delivered a presentation outlining the public submissions on the topic.
She said there was a broad consensus that a lack of flexibility in how work is organised makes it hard for women and men to balance the demands of work and life.
“This has negative outcomes for women’s access to well-paid jobs and for men who want to spend more time with their families,” she said.
In terms of solutions to the issue of women being over-represented in part-time and low paid work, suggestions included the setting of wage floors in a range of low-paid sectors, including those such as contract cleaning and hospitality.
“There needs to be strategic interventions to rebalance all employment sectors to ensure that women do not dominate in the lower streams of employment,” she said.
On the issue of gender-based violence and sexual harassment at work, solutions proposed included a commitment to more urgent action from employers to communicate a zero tolerance approach for sexually harassing behaviour.
Also, there were submissions calling for the introduction of paid domestic violence leave along the lines of that recently introduced in New Zealand.
The Citizens' Assembly on gender equality was established by the Oireachtas last year and is chaired by Dr Catherine Day, a former secretary-general of the European Commission.
Its recommendations will come before the Dáil and Seanad once it is finished in early 2021. It will meet again next month.