Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Average Industrial Wage.

Patrick McCartan

Question:

21 Mr. McCartan asked the Minister for Labour if he will outline the average industrial wage for (a) men and (b) women at the latest date for which figures are available; if he has any plans to reduce the big gap; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

In March 1990, the latest date for which statistics are available, the average weekly industrial wage was £255.23 for men and £153.34 for women.

I am aware that there is a significant imbalance between male and female earnings and I am not satisfied with the gap that exists. The differences in industrial earnings result from a wide range of factors. These include wage rates but, also, hours worked, overtime payments, shift or unsocial hours premia, payment by results, bonuses for output levels and payments for length of service. It is as well to recognise that industrial wage statistics cover only a percentage of women who are at work and describe a situation where there is a tendency for women to be segregated into certain low pay areas and confined to a restricted range of jobs.

While I want to make a number of changes to the employment equality legislation to simplify it and make it more effective, I am attaching equal importance to improving access for women to a wider range of jobs. The employment of women in a wider range of jobs and at higher levels is essential to reducing the imbalance between male and female earnings. In this regard several steps are being taken, particularly in the areas of improved training and access to employment and positive action.

I am particularly anxious that positive action programmes are implemented in both the public and private sectors. Towards this end in conjunction with the EEA during 1990, I launched the Equality Focus Award Scheme to encourage employers to implement positive action initiatives. The first awards were presented last week.

I am also monitoring positive action policies in State-sponsored bodies. The Employment Equality Agency are actively continuing their work in the area of promoting positive action. I am confident that these and other initiatives will help to improve the situation.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will the Minister accept that if one included workers outside the manufacturing industrial area, the gap of £100 per week which exists between men and women in relation to average earnings, might actually be larger? Will he also accept that employers are now systematically structuring their workforces in such a way as to avoid claims under equal pay legislation? Will he also agree that there is a necesssity to amend the equal pay legislation in order to allow women workers a greater facility to process claims for higher pay where they believe their work is under-valued?

The Deputy wants me to change the regulations in regard to comparative rates of pay?

Yes, I agree with the Deputy, and we will do that. I must also acknowledge the efforts of the Federation of Irish Employers recently — and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights have also been helpful — in regard to equal opportunities. We have emphasised the positive benefits to employers of equal opportunities and yesterday the FIE issued a very good explanatory booklet to 3,500 of their members. I had been calling on them for some time to do that and, taken in conjunction with the efforts of the ICTU and people in the retail market earlier in the year, it is clear that employers are beginning to look at the positive aspects, apart from the provisions of legislation.

That disposes of questions for today.