Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to address the House on the Second Stage of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2021. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for a requirement that employers publish certain information on the differences in pay between female and male employees. The provisions of the Bill will initially apply to companies with 250 or more employees, with this threshold reducing to 50 or more over time. The requirement will apply in the private and public sectors once the employment threshold is met.

The gender pay gap is well documented globally. Recent research shows it is driven mainly by differences in working patterns between men and women but also by wage differences for gendered roles. It is hoped this legislation will go a long way towards improving understanding of the pay gap and incentivising employers to use whatever means they can to reduce it.

The gender pay gap has long been an issue of concern at EU level and in March 2021 the Commission published proposals for a draft directive "on strengthening the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms". Publication of the proposal meets a commitment in President von der Leyen's political priorities and in the EU gender equality strategy. The proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay, namely, measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers and improved access to justice for victims of pay discrimination. The Council has commenced first reading of the proposals at working group level and first reading has also started in the European Parliament. I hope these proposals will complement the work we have begun with this Bill and enhance our efforts to address the gender pay gap.

In Ireland, the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, includes a suite of measures which will impact on the gender pay gap, with the most relevant to this debate being the commitment to legislate to require publication of the gender pay gap in large companies. The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 also has a number of actions to address directly or indirectly the gender pay gap. The action relevant to this debate is No. 1.23 to "promote wage transparency by requiring companies of 50 or more employees to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results". Most recently, the report of the Citizens' Assembly made a recommendation to enact and implement this Bill without delay.

The work on preparing this Bill began with extensive consultations in August 2017 and I would like to acknowledge the work the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, did on this Bill. The views of interested parties were invited to inform the development of the package of measures to tackle the gender pay gap and to identify issues to be advanced through further discussion with union and employer stakeholders. Interested parties were invited to make submissions in writing, in particular to comment on the factors creating the gender pay gap and the actions needed to be taken. In all 38 written submissions were received by a wide range of individuals and organisations, which cited 14 specific factors and 253 suggested actions to tackle and address the existence of the gender pay gap. The top contributory factor, which attracted the largest number of suggested actions, was non-transparency in pay structures.

A national symposium of measures to address the gender pay gap was held in January 2018 and attended by more than 130 people. The symposium was addressed by an official of the European Commission, academics and other experts and representatives of the social partners, civil society and professional bodies. Following this, direct consultation on prospective wage transparency legislation with several key stakeholders, including IBEC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Women's Council and Senator Bacik, took place. Officials also met the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, the then Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. Many suggestions were put forward throughout these consultations.

On 7 February 2019, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality issued its report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme. Since the publication of that report amendments to the enforcement framework set out in the Bill were made on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann. These amendments strengthen the Bill and ensure the enforcement provisions are both proportionate and workable, addressing a point raised in the report of the joint committee. I will discuss these amendments in more detail as I go through the main provisions of the Bill.

I would also like to acknowledge the work Senator Bacik and her Labour Party colleagues did on bringing forward the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill, which was passed by this House under the previous Government. While the Government shares the objectives of that Bill, we are proposing a different mechanism for gender pay gap reporting and believe the Bill being brought forward today is the correct mechanism, which ensures IHREC has an oversight role and proportionate enforcement powers and provides individual employees with recourse to the WRC.

I will turn to the main provisions of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the insertion of a new section 20A in the Employment Equality Act 1998. This provides that the Minister shall, as soon as is reasonably practicable after commencement, make regulations requiring the publication of gender pay gap information. These regulations must include certain items of information and there is discretion to include additional items. The items that must be included are the mean and median gap in hourly gap between men and women, in bonus pay and in hourly pay of part-time male and female employees and the percentage of men and of women who receive bonus pay and benefits in kind.

Section 20A(1)(c) requires the publication of the reasons, in the employer's opinion, for any gaps and of the measures, if any, the employer is taking or proposes to take to eliminate or reduce gaps. This reflects a recommendation in the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the joint committee and came from other interests as well.

In addition to the required information which I have outlined, the regulations may provide for the publication of the following information: the mean and median pay gap between men and women on temporary contracts, the percentage of each pay quartile who are men and who are women and the publication of pay gap information by reference to job classifications.

Section 20A(2) provides that, in making regulations, the Minister shall have regard to the estimated costs of complying with and enforcing the regulations. Section 20A(3) provides for the threshold of employees above which the employer will be required to publish gender pay gap information. The key point is that employers with fewer than 50 employees will not be covered.

It also provides for the phased introduction of the requirements on certain employers to report, namely, that the regulations shall not apply to employers with fewer than 250 employees before the second anniversary of the making of the first regulations, nor to employers with fewer than 150 employees before the third anniversary. I will return to the thresholds and the phasing later.

Section 20A(4) provides that the regulations may prescribe, among other things, the classes of employer to which the regulations apply, subject to the thresholds I have just mentioned, the classes of employee and the classes of remuneration to be reported.

Section 20A(5) provides that the regulations may prescribe the form and manner in which and the frequency with which information is to be published in order to bring the information to the attention of the employees and the public. For example, the regulations might require the employer to send the information to the employees in addition to publishing it on the employer's website and uploading it on a central Government website. Publication will not be required more often than once a year.

Section 20A(6) provides for publication of gender pay gap information by public bodies. I amended the definition of a "public body" on the recent Report Stage in Dáil Éireann to provide the most complete and up-to-date definition. The amended definition of what encompasses a public body is based on section 10 of the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019. The text of section 10 of the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019 was chosen as it is the most complete and up-to-date definition of a "public body".

Senators may note that the definition states "a Department of State" rather than "a Minister of the Government" as provided for in section 10 of the Data Sharing and Governance Act. This move away from the precedent definition is to ensure that where a Minister has responsibility for more than one Department, an individual report for each individual Department is required. Essentially, the intention is that this legislation applies to the public as well as the private sector where the body in question is within the employment threshold.

Section 20A(7) provides for the situation in which the employer does not have access to pay information on employees. In that case, the regulations may require the person who has such access to give the information, or access to the information, to the employer so the latter can comply with the regulations. This arises in the education sector where teachers are employed by a school board but are paid by the Department of Education.

Section 20A(8) provides that the regulations may prescribe measures to ensure that personal data have undergone pseudonymisation before or when they are released. This means the processing of personal data in such a manner that the data can no longer be attributed to a specific person.

Section 3 is concerned with enforcement and inserts two new sections in the Employment Equality Act 1998. This section was amended on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann. The original section 85B provided for the appointment by the Minister of designated officers to investigate how employers prepare the information required to be published to ensure its accuracy. A policy decision was taken not to proceed with the appointment of designated enforcement provisions due to concerns around how this system would operate practically. This section was deleted on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann.

Section 85B contained in the Bill before Members was originally section 85C, with the deletion of the original section 85B it has been renumbered. I also brought forward an amendment to section 85B in the Bill before the House on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann. The section now enables the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, to apply to the Circuit Court or to the High Court for an order requiring a person to comply with the regulations. A person who fails to comply with a Circuit Court order or High Court order is in contempt of that court. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will have regard to the size of the company, the number of infringements, etc., when determining which court in which to issue proceedings.

Section 85C in the Bill before the House was originally section 85D, with the deletion of the original section 85B it has been renumbered. Section 85C allows for an employee to make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, of non-compliance with reporting regulations by their employer.

The director general of the WRC or an adjudicating officer, to whom one would expect this function will be delegated, will investigate the complaint if satisfied that there is a prima facie case. If, on investigation the officer finds in favour of the complainant, he or she may make an order requiring the employer to take a specified course of action in order to comply.

This is the only remedy that may be ordered. For example, compensation may not be awarded, as it is not an appropriate remedy in this situation. Enforcement of WRC orders is through the District Court. This section was also amended on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann, subsection (4) of what was section 85D provided for an investigation to be carried out by the director general of the WRC in private. That was at odds with the findings of the Supreme Court in the recent Zalewski judgment which has implications for the procedures of the WRC in terms of proceedings held in private. The new section 85C removes the subsection requiring an investigation to be held in private. In addition subsection (7) provided for an appeal in the Labour Court to be heard in private, unless at the request of the complainant or respondent, the court determines to hold the appeal in full or so much of it as it does not consider should be treated as confidential, in public.

This has been amended at subsection (6) to allow for an appeal to be held in public, unless at the request of either party, the court determines there are special circumstances to hold the appeal, or part thereof, otherwise than in public.

Sections 85B and 85C adopt the approach of requiring a person to comply with the regulations rather than penalising the person for failure to comply. If they fail to comply they are in contempt of court. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will have regard to the size of the company, the number of infringements, etc., when determining which court in which to issue proceedings. The Government believes that this more proportionate, court-based enforcement mechanism would ultimately prove more effective than a simple summary offence and fine system, which larger companies in particular might simply factor into costs instead of being motivated to comply.

Section 4 inserts a further category of "parties" into section 88 of the Employment Equality Act 1998. Section 88 of the 1998 Act provides for the form and content of a decision of the director general of the WRC or a determination of the Labour Court. Section 4 intends to include the complainant and the respondent where a decision or determination is made under section 85C, in the definition of "parties" to whom section 88 applies. Senators may note that section 4 in the Bill before the House incorrectly refers to section 85D which no longer exists. I intend to bring an amendment on Report Stage to remedy this.

Section 5 inserts a provision in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 to allow the Minister to request the IHREC to consider exercising its powers under section 82 of that Act. This section concerns the carrying out of equality reviews and the drawing up of equality action plans. It will be for IHREC to decide whether to exercise its section 32 powers following the Minister's request. For instance, the situation could arise that it becomes apparent to the Minister following publication of an employer's gender pay gap information on a central government website that the pay gap is abnormally large having regard to all relevant considerations. It would then be appropriate to draw it to IHREC's attention and ask it to consider using the powers I have mentioned.

Section 6 provides that the Minister shall review the Act before the fourth anniversary of commencement. This section was also amended on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann, with the fifth anniversary replaced by the fourth to ensure that reporting requirements are fit for purpose as we extend the reporting requirement to smaller organisations.

I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and to discussing the Bill in more detail on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Every year in Ireland, there comes a day when women's earnings stop and when men's earnings keep going to the end of the year, effectively at least, because women earn 14% less than men in this country. Last year that date was 9 November. This is often explained away as it is not necessarily that a man and woman doing the same job are earning less than each other, but that women and men may be engaged in different kinds of work so it is often the conditions of their working lives on which a light is being shone. Women often have periods of uncertainty or they look for flexibility. This is not weakness; it is reality. We have babies, we sometimes want to be at home, we sometimes want flexible working and we also want to feed our families and not to live in poverty. We should never be forced into caring roles because of a lack of childcare - the cost of which is being addressed by the Government and the Minister - or through direct discrimination, as happens when workplaces simply pay us less or subconsciously do not think that we look or sound like what they expect from a worker in a specific role, especially roles at a higher end which pay more.

There are certainly cases that are brought to the Workplace Relations Commission where women have been asked, at interview, if they plan to have children. I know one woman who was asked that and did not take a case. The implication is that they might not have what it takes to stay the course. The personal rewards for taking these cases are often nowhere near enough to prompt employees to do it. It is not enough for us as a society to say that that should never happen and that people have their rights under equality legislation and should go off and take a case. We should put in place safeguards to ensure that it does not happen in the first place, which is what this Bill is about. We should not, as individuals, rely on the courts to vindicate our rights under equality legislation but put a greater onus on the State and employers to demonstrate compliance with a set of principles which is laid down, in part, by this legislation.

There are many practices which, quite apart from this direct discrimination, also indirectly discriminate. The former CEO of Reddit has banned salary negotiations at her company altogether because salary negotiations indirectly discriminate against women, because over our lifetime we continuously earn less in each place we are employed. We are obliged to say what we were earning in our past employment and in our next employment, doing the exact same role as a man in that role, we end up earning less because of our own negotiations. I note that the Irish Public Appointments Service asks for previous salaries for senior appointments in the public service. It might make sense to reform the public service recruitment processes as an early step in order to do more than just publish the information, but to act to reduce it beyond transparency measures.

I am the Green Party's spokesperson for higher education. Only 5% of apprenticeships in the country are taken up by women. That means that we are not doing enough as a State to promote them among women and that we are continuing to say that some forms of work are for women and that some forms are for men. The real question is why the work women engage in is paying less than men. Why is the working world often set up to maximise profit instead of ensuring that all work is done in a sustainable way and people of all genders and their children earn enough, regardless of whether they are in paid employment, unpaid employment, caring roles or other roles? We should ensure that we are all paid the same and that we can all make a living for our children and families. We should ensure that the kind of work we are engaged in is not something to be ashamed of. I should not have to feel, if I work in a crèche, that I am any less than somebody working in a male-dominated profession. Unfortunately that is where we are as a society. If we genuinely want to encourage more men into some roles, then we need to start showing that it is valued. I guarantee that men will step up to the plate in those roles if they feel they are valued professions.

The Minister knows how much I speak on the issue of unpaid caring labour. That is not what this Bill is here to address but it is at the core of the gender pay gap because women take extensive time out of work. We need to look at measures to promote women going back into the workforce in small businesses as well as large ones because the country relies on small and medium businesses. We have to look at how we support businesses to take women back and to value the experience that they have had, which was added to LinkedIn recently, during the pandemic, which I thought was notable. One can now put an emphasis on work that is at home and put into one's profile that one is a stay-at-home parent. That means that we are now stepping up as a society. The Citizens' Assembly has recognised the importance of caring work. In order to promote and help those who are in caring work, we need to make sure that the people who are in caring work are not living in poverty and, more particularly, that their children are not living in poverty.

Much damage was done with tax individualisation and it is hard to roll back on that. There are also lone parents and damage was done with regard to them by previous Governments. We have to recognise all of that and work our way towards ensuring that we redress that balance so that people, regardless of where they work in the home or outside the home, can make choices based on something other than financial imperatives and putting food on the table. This Bill is a significant step forward. It is in line with many other countries and it is also a large part of what the Citizens' Assembly examined and encouraged the Government to do. I look forward to the referendums or at least a referendum with several questions in it, which I hope we will pursue in the lifetime of this Government.

I welcome the Minister. There is always a balance to be identified between an agenda to remove what are objectively obstacles to people's equal participation in society and the economy, which one must always support, and where this drifts into the area of social engineering, which I have an issue with, when we start to tell people and families how to live and arrange their lives, identifying some choices as virtuous and others as less virtuous. I tend to oppose that. I approached this legislation with that tension in mind. I note that this Bill passed the Dáil without a single Deputy opposing it on Second Stage. Not a single amendment was submitted on Committee Stage at the select committee and Committee Stage was wrapped up within an hour. This is for a Bill that languished on the Dáil Order Paper for almost two years before being resurrected two weeks ago. There was not a single vote against it on its final passage through the Dáil.

If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that when a Bill reaches the Seanad without there having been a single dissenting voice in the Dáil, we should be at least wary of its contents. It often means that a Bill is not evidence-based or that it is a tokenistic measure designed to signal the virtue of those proposing it rather than to effect real and meaningful change for the better. The Government and the Dáil have developed a habit of clapping through legislation rather than engaging in forensic scrutiny. The business of forensic scrutiny is not helped by a tendency to rush legislation through with the guillotining of Bills and so on. There is very little respect for the democratic process on show at the moment. Any policy which has unanimous support on all sides should be subject to even more scrutiny because the critical faculties of these Houses can be dull enough at the best of times but they are further eroded if there is any danger of groupthink.

The concept of equal pay for work of equal value has been enshrined at EU level since the 1970s in no small part due to the work of the EU Commissioner and later President, Patrick Hillery. The Labour Party leader at the time, Michael O'Leary, sought a derogation for Ireland from the equal pay directives, something that the Labour Party should always bear in mind. The late President Hillery would be more than surprised to hear some of the rhetoric that has emerged from his own party on the issue. Some of the commentary is facile. After 50 years of significant leaps and bounds with regard to the rights of women, one would swear that Ireland has been transported back to the 1950s in the last few years, with some of the rhetoric that one hears about these issues.

This Bill is founded on the premise that a gender pay gap of 14% exists in the European Union with a gap of 14.4% here in Ireland. This figure has been accepted without question or analysis by the Dáil or the Minister. Does that mean that men are being paid 14% more than women for work of equal value? It does not because that would be a breach of EU law. The gap is calculated from the difference between the average gross hourly earnings of all male and female employees regardless of the type of job, their experience, differences in education, the location of the job, the supply of jobs versus the demand for particular skills, and so on. As a result, it is a crude measure with which to analyse this issue.

It is like comparing a basket of apples with a basket of oranges and being surprised that there is a 14% difference between them. Even the National Women's Council of Ireland accepts that half the gap can be explained by the factors that I have mentioned. It is a false measure for the 14% figure to be used. It is used almost, as it were, for its shock value and there is not enough of analysis of the detail behind it. The 14% gap was portrayed in the Dáil as being the result of out and out discrimination against women. That is clearly not the case. There is a multiplicity of factors at play. Even the European Parliament's own summary of how the gap is calculated states:

Interpreting the numbers is not as simple as it seems, as a smaller gender pay gap in a specific country does not necessarily mean more gender equality. High gaps tend to be related to a high proportion of women working part time or being concentrated in a restricted number of professions.

The summary also states:

...30% of the total gender pay gap can be explained by an overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors such as care, sales or education. There are still sectors such as the science, technology and engineering sectors where the proportion of male employees is very high (with more than 80%).

I was very interested in what Senator O'Reilly had to say. I agree with her that we need to think about whether we are just thinking in economic terms about the work people do. Are we factoring sufficiently into this debate the decisions that people make to engage, for example, in care in the home? How do we put a value on that so that we take into account in the way we are thinking? There is a lot of talk about encouraging people into the workplace. When is there going to be more talk about facilitating men and women in the decisions that they will want to take as families? I mean about which of them, for example, might want to make the decision to step out of the workforce and work in the home in the caring of children. That is where we need to repitch much of the discussion.

I was delighted that Senator O'Reilly mentioned the scandal of the tax individualisation policy in recent years, which has militated against families. It is driven by a purely economic view of the person and his or her contribution to society.

Women are four times more likely to work in part-time jobs and, inherently, part-time jobs tend to be lower paid, irrespective of the gender of the employee, for simple reasons of supply and demand. Perhaps work can be done in this area to encourage employers and rethink how we see part-time work. It does not necessarily have to be the case that part-time work tends to be the kind of work that is lower paid. Does the recent experience of Covid and the new emphasis on working from home have something to contribute to this debate and how we order our lives together?

The fact that women work part-time hours more than men is not due to some sexist conspiracy among employers. It is because a large number of women either choose to remain in the home or choose to work part-time in a job because it suits their family circumstances. The Netherlands, for example, has a very high proportion of women who work part time. A 2013 study there stated that women in part-time work have high levels of job satisfaction and a low desire to change working hours. I see no reason the same might not be true for Ireland.

We should not view part-time work as a bad thing but, again, we need to see if we can create incentives. It is good news when we are thinking about more family-friendly structures in the workplace. It is also good news when we examine part-time work in terms of is it being sufficiently valued, particularly if it is work that women are in to a greater degree than men. It is bad news when we obsess about getting people to change their behaviours when it is for them to make decisions that affect their personal lives. I want to warn against any danger or risk of stigmatising those who choose to work part time, women who choose to work part time and the employers who hire them by publicly shaming them with a gender pay gap idea, which suggests that women are actually being paid less than men per work done for equal work. Where that happens is a scandal, it must be targeted and of course it is against the law.

The proponents of this Bill in the Dáil were keen to highlight disparities in individual cases of well-paid, high-end professional jobs but conspicuously less keen to speak about the structure of the workforce, the choices that women and families make for themselves or the decisions that they make to work part time.

In conclusion, I have no problem with this Bill per se but we need a broader debate about how we structure the economy and whether we show sufficient respect for the choices that people want to make and enable them to make that choice.

I thank the Senator for his thoughtful contribution.

I thank the Senator.

The Senator spoke about choice, about people being forced into labour market and that the Bill and the State are disingenuous. We, here in this House, are responsible for creating equality. Sometimes equality is not always provided for by a Bill. This Bill is about creating equity for men and women in terms of payscales. That is so much more than his description of this being the choice of women. I feel that it is a bit rich of him to say it is a woman's choice.

There are good choices and bad choices.

This Bill is very welcome and long overdue. I very much agree with the Minister that this legislation should have been here before now.

Fianna Fáil, in opposition, supported this Bill and now we are in government we are delighted to work as part of a fair economy and a fairer society. A key part of that will be continuing to eradicate the gender pay gap, to hold companies accountable and to highlight the companies that do a good job.

Gender pay equality is a concept that is often misunderstood and it has been for a long time. It has been defined as a percentage difference between the average gross hourly earning for women and men. We all have become aware of the line of equal pay for equal work, which is the basis for this Bill.

The gender pay gap is now a well-known phenomenon, which is receiving increasing attention in Ireland and internationally. I congratulate my colleague and fellow Senator, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, on establishing the first all-party Oireachtas committee on gender pay inequality. I am glad to be a member of the committee and during this term we are working to change the so-called traditional view of female participation in the labour force. The WorkEqual campaign led by Sonya Lennon has done incredible work and continues to highlight gender issues concerning women gaining fair and decent work.

The Bill goes some way to ensuring that we, as a country, treat people of all genders equally and it will, for the first time, will provide for a structured and steady flow of information on what is happening in individual businesses. The amendments agreed by the Cabinet on 30 April will mean that Departments and agencies will have to report on their own gender pay gap and establish a stronger enforcement role for IHREC. I ask the Minister to extend this concept not within this Bill but in other areas where public bodies, Departments and organisations would have to highlight whether they have a diverse workforce and who we, as a State, are hiring to ensure that we have more diversity in our State-funded bodies.

The Minister has outlined that the Bill will require the phased introduction of pay gap reporting for any employer with more than 15 employees. Employers will be required to report the percentage, mean and median pay gap between men and women in terms of hourly pay for both full-time and part-time employees, as well as bonus pay. Employers will also report the proportion of male and female employees who receive bonuses or benefits-in-kind.

Today, I must address the bigger overall issue of how we, as women, or we, as a society, work. In general, workplaces have been created by men for men and what is so-called normal needs to change. Society is changing and what society wants is evolving. One silver lining from Covid is how the concept of a work-life balance has changed. It is no longer necessary for employees to be in an office. Work is more about productivity and results than the inflexible so-called norms of working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are now more women in third-level education and those who have attained excellent qualifications only for the State to put in place barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the workplace. I was one of those women. I have three degrees and good enough work experience but after I had children, I had to weigh up the cost benefit of returning to work. For me, the high cost of childcare was the issue. Why would I work for little or no financial benefit yet have so much stress on my family? Thankfully, we cut our cloth to suit and I stayed at home. However, when I wanted to go back to work the lack of valuable part-time work that suited me and was flexible enough for me to care for my four children was very difficult to find. The irony is that I now have one of the most least family-friendly jobs.

This gap in my employment history raises another issue, which is one I share with many of my female friends, namely, not having a pension. I do not have a pension and I am not unusual. This is going to have a huge a long-term effect. Unfortunately, many women have poverty to look forward to in their retirement. If we want to create and operate a society with a fair economy, we must benefit everybody within it. More women in the workplace is better for everyone. Diversity provides an economic win. Studies have shown the financial performance of firms improves with more gender-equal corporate boards. This is because women and men bring different skills and perspectives to the workplace, including different attitudes to risk and collaboration. It is known that this results in higher productivity and even higher wages for everybody.

As someone once said, "a lot done, more to do". This is a step along the way. There is so much to do, be it in relation to childcare, the constitutional amendments highlighted by the Citizens' Assembly regarding the value we as a country place on carers and the so-called care economy or the gender balance on State and corporate boards and in our universities and schools. I am rehashing other debates we have had on gender equality but we must get more women involved in politics and leadership roles. I have seen a huge difference in the conversation between previous Seanaid and this one because we have 40% women in this Seanad. I generally believe in 50:50 gender quotas because we will never have an equal society if we do not have gender equality in the Government and among those who create policy. If we do not have an equitable make-up among policymakers, we will never have an equitable country.

I very much welcome this Bill. I look forward to seeing more progressive and positive changes for a fairer economy and diverse labour force in the time ahead.

I welcome this Bill and the fact the Minister has brought it forward so quickly in his tenure, despite everything else that was going on. It shows the priority he is giving it. I thank him also for acknowledging the great work of Deputy David Stanton as well.

What is extraordinary is that we have to legislate for gender equality where pay is concerned. We should have long since moved past the stage where women must prove their worth and that they are of equal value in the workplace. However, the finding by the EU that there is a 16% disparity in pay between men and women and that in Ireland that disparity stands at 14% demonstrates that we have deeply embedded gender norms with regard to influencing the rate of pay for women in the workplace and attitudes to women in the workplace. I value the commission reports and the words of Dr. Catherine Day in particular, in her open letter to the House of the Oireachtas arising out of the gender equality assembly. In it she says:

Gender equality is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness. It must underpin all of our interactions as a society. The State has a special responsibility to treat all of its citizens equally, regardless of their gender identity, in compliance with article 40.1 of our Constitution (‘All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law’).

This is a big step in that direction. There is no doubt that a woman is much more likely to experience career disruption. As an employment lawyer, I have always found astonishing the attitude of employers towards women who might be of childbearing age. They have a discriminatory attitude that such women are likely to need time off for having babies, as though having babies was somehow irrelevant to our society and not really that important, which is the point I generally make to them about their unreasonable attitudes.

Women are more likely to carry a disproportionate responsibility in the aftermath of a relationship breakdown in that they are more likely to be the ones who are caring for children. They are also more likely to be the applicants in family court pursuing maintenance, trying to enforce agreements between partners over the care of children and they are more likely to be the lone parents who are the carers. All that being the case, we need to ensure that when women are in the workplace their hour there is of equal value to a man’s, given they have so many steps along the way that may disrupt that right and that ability. There is no excuse for it, so I do not accept the particular citing of the National Women’s Council of Ireland in that regard.

Older women, women from ethnic minorities and higher earning women are more likely to be victims of the gender pay gap. It is so bad that, as Senator Pauline O’Reilly said, from around 9 November each year, women are effectively not being paid and are working for free. I acknowledge also the work of the WorkEqual campaign in highlighting that fact.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill. Transparency and publication are the way forward. The requirement to have transparency should also be a factor in any public tendering, to the effect that there must be a declaration regarding gender-equal pay. Large multinational companies tend to carry out ethical audits on their suppliers. I would like to see a category in such audits that deals with gender pay and that it becomes a factor of assessment for companies. I want companies to drive towards and show that gender equality in pay is important to them. They should boast about it and have it as a unique selling point.

This Bill sits nicely in the employment policy legislation. While the fact that it deals with discrimination against women leaves the way open for cases to be taken in the Circuit Court and High Court, it is much more likely that we will see this litigated at the Workplace Relations Commission. I had intended asking how the ruling of the Supreme Court that the commission must now be in public would factor into this. I welcome the Minister’s clarification in that regard. I welcome this change because public hearings are the best deterrent and means of keeping manners on employers because the reputational damage of a case is a very good negotiating factor, one I use personally, with errant employers.

I understand also that redress does not include compensation, as it often does not within employment law. However, I ask that there consideration be made for retrospective application and that redress goes back at least to the commencement of this Bill. That is not an unusual precedent in employment law. In the minimum wage area, I have been involved in cases where I secured awards for people going back 15 years where there has been a disparity or a failure to pay. We should be able to include a retrospective provision as that would be stronger. While we cannot provide for compensation, we can bring redress back to when the discrepancy arose and a date from which that could be calculated. That would hopefully stop the catastrophically arrogant decisions of some employers.

In addition, we have in employment equality a penalisation and victimisation aspect whereby someone who makes a complaint has an opportunity to go back into the WRC in the aftermath of an award. People need to have the additional protection of being able to take a penalisation claim because complainants may be given different shifts or be treated differently and employers may become awkward after a case. There is a long-standing precedent in the WRC that persons who successfully make victimisation claims after having taken cases get almost double what they got the first time around. That is a very good way to deter employers from being spiteful in the aftermath of cases. Of course, there are fantastic employers out there but unfortunately a small few end up in the WRC. A few come before the WRC all the time and clearly factor that in. All of this should be a very sobering warning to employers not to persist in discriminatory practices.

There are other matters that we need to address. As one of them is outside the remit of the Bill, I am not quite sure how we would go about it. In recent years, we have seen an interesting trend in the legal profession whereby the more lucrative areas of law, of which, notwithstanding public opinion, there are not many, are dominated by men. The less lucrative areas of law are dominated by women. That is an interesting pattern in behaviour. Outside of that, we see whole professions, for example, childcare, where women dominate the workforce and again these roles are the lower paid. A third level-type qualification is now needed to work in childcare.

We have had that fantastic professionalisation in the sector. I appreciate we are in the middle of negotiations and I urge that employment regulation orders or similar provisions are hastened.

In summary, I greatly welcome this Bill. I thank the Minister for all the hard work on it and look forward to supporting it through the House.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to the House and welcome the opportunity to debate Second Stage of this important Bill. I thank the Minister for his kind words of acknowledgement for the work I and my Labour Party colleagues have done over many years to bring forward similar legislation. Indeed, the Bill we brought forward seeking to address the gender pay gap passed Second Stage in this House over four years ago, in May 2017. It passed Committee Stage here in October 2017 with Government and cross-party support and passed Final Stages in October 2018. Indeed, it then went on to pass Second Stage in the Dáil in November 2018. It has been a long journey since then to come back before this House with the Government Bill. While I very much welcome this Bill, I feel it could have been done much more swiftly, and the Minister probably agrees it has been a long time in the making. I thank him for setting out on the journey and for the consultation, and there was a great deal of consultation. However, I should say that over the years since I first introduced our Labour Party Bill in 2017, I have spoken at numerous employer, trade union and human resource management events about the gender pay gap and the introduction of a gender pay gap reporting mechanism. It is clear that employers, unions and public sector bodies across the country are ready and were prepared for this some time ago, given such legislation has been introduced in so many other jurisdictions, and that we have an EU imperative to do so as well. It could have been done more quickly but, that said, I am glad it is before us now. I understand it is to move swiftly through this House and that we will have Committee Stage very soon.

I did not think it would be necessary to say why we need a gender pay gap Bill but it seems there is still some disagreement as to whether a gender pay gap exists and whether legislation is necessary. To remind anyone who needs reminding, the gender pay gap is the term we use to describe the difference between the pay of women and men calculated on an average basis in gross hourly earnings. While it is usually presented as a gross hourly earnings gap, there is, of course, also a weekly and monthly gap. Senator Marie Sherlock has spoken extensively on this aspect and I know she is going to speak on it again today. We know that, on average, women in the EU earn 16% less per hour than men; that is based on European Commission figures from 2018 and those figures show that Ireland had an hourly gender pay gap of 14%. This has meant that, across the EU, we mark equal pay day on 9 November, as colleagues are aware, and this marks the moment when women symbolically stop getting paid when compared to our male colleagues, with so much of the working year still remaining. A similar concept lies behind the idea that at 4 p.m. every day, we stop getting paid when compared to male colleagues.

Clearly, there are many reasons for this. Certainly, women and men have different work patterns, there is a great deal of occupational gender segregation across different employments and different careers, and there is a preponderance of women in lower paid and part-time work. All of us are very aware of these issues and I do not think many of us would accept this is just to do with the choices of individual women. Women and men, as we all know, make choices within circumstances, contexts and structures not of our choosing. If we, as a society, cannot facilitate women who want to work more and want to earn the same amount as our husbands and partners, then we should be setting up the structures and the legislative frameworks to enable women to do that, and to support those women and men who choose to work in that way. That is clearly the impetus behind this Bill, which I very much welcome.

If there was any doubt about this, just three months ago, the Minister was kind enough to come to this House on International Women's Day to respond to a matter I had put down with Senator Sherlock about the gender pay gap. As it happened, just that week a piece had been published in The Sunday Times on updated gender pay gap figures for RTÉ showing that one in five women working in RTÉ earns less than €40,000 compared to almost one in ten men, so there are twice as many women on that lower pay in one organisation. I do not think any of us believe that organisation is unique. We know from other jurisdictions where gender pay gap transparency legislation has been in place for some time that it can be really effective in addressing the disparity between the earning levels of women and men, for example, in Belgium.

Senator Sherlock will speak about the weekly gap, which we also know to be very extensive. The average weekly earnings for women in this country are 25% less than the average weekly earnings of men, which again is a very stark figure more than 30 years after we introduced equal pay legislation. We know from EUROSTAT figures that this translates into a serious gap in pensions between women and men, so this does not just stop when we finish earning in paid employment because, of course, it has a knock-on effect into pensions. This is a huge issue that requires tackling and, as I said, I very much welcome the fact we will now have legislation.

I want to address three specific areas where I feel the Bill could be strengthened and where it differs significantly from the Labour Party Bill we proposed four years ago. I hope we can address some of these issues further on Committee Stage. I acknowledge the Minister has already brought forward amendments and that he had indicated in March in this House that he was going to bring forward amendments which would strengthen to Bill. I welcome that and I hope we can work constructively to strengthen it further.

I want to outline the three points. First, in terms of organisations to which this Bill will apply, our legislation applied to all employers with more than 50 employees and we modelled that on the powers already in the establishment legislation for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. We did not see it as necessary to phase in the legislation and given the long gestation period of this Bill, I do not see why it still has this phased basis, starting with 250 employees, despite the fact very few employers in Ireland have such a large number of employees, and it then goes to 150 and only then to 50. There is a concern that it will take a very long time to implement and to apply to most people working. I ask why not phase it in more swiftly or, indeed, go straight to 50 employees.

The second key change is the role of Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which the Minister has spoken about. We had envisaged a much more extensive role for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission so that it would actually be the body collating and taking the data. I accept, as I have accepted before in this House, that this might not be the most appropriate mechanism to provide for collation and publication of the data. However, what concerns me is that the current Bill is so vague as to how this will actually be done. Again, given the extensive consultation, I would like to hear more about what exactly is proposed under the proposed new section 20A(5), which simply provides that regulations “may” prescribe the form and manner in which the data will be published, and so on. At this point, we need to know, and employers, workers and unions need to know, how exactly this will be done and what is going to be the key mechanism.

The final point is about enforcement and penalties. Again, I am glad the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will continue to have a role, as we had envisaged in our own Bill. However, I am concerned about the onus being placed on individuals to go to the Workplace Relations Commission to seek enforcement under the proposed new section 85C. We can explore this further on Committee Stage and Report Stage. What is key is that we look elsewhere and look to jurisdictions that have well-established pay transparency legislation to tackle the gender pay gap and that we seek to ensure the legislation is strong and effective from the start, and that it will, therefore, be effective in reducing this ongoing and glaring gender pay gap.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill. The gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay for equal work. Paying men and women differently for the same role is illegal, and gender is one of the nine grounds provided for in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 that protect women's entitlement to be treated equally in regard to work and jobs.

There are several causes of the gender pay gap. When the lower-paid jobs are taken up by women and few are in management roles, a gender pay gap can emerge. However, the issues that do not get as much notice or attention in public discourse or in mainstream media relate to the time women take out of the labour market due to caring responsibilities and how the impact this has on their career progression, earnings and pension entitlements negatively affects women. The gender pay gap reporting mechanism will collect these data for future policy formation. Women predominantly take on more unpaid work than men, such as caring and household work. Women reduce their hours at a higher rate than men and spend nearly 60% longer than men on unpaid work per week, according to an EU study.

Implementing gender pay gap reporting will raise awareness among employers, employees, policymakers and the wider public. The role gender pay gap reporting will play in raising awareness of long-standing inequality in the labour market and sectors adversely affected will benefit future policy decisions to bring about a fair and more equitable system. I suppose one of the problems - it has been mentioned in this debate - in assessing the wage gap is getting accurate data and that is one of the important aspects of this Bill. Closing the gender pay gap requires a whole-of-government approach, affordable childcare, the introduction of a living wage, collective bargaining rights, equality proofing, departmental budgets, and enhanced educational and income supports for lone parents.

Senator Mullen mentioned that this Bill passed without much debate in the Dáil. I would argue that Sinn Féin sought to improve the Bill. We support the introduction of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 and we constructively contributed to the Joint Committee on Justice's pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill. We submitted several amendments that were not included at that stage. They were submitted again in the Dáil. We acknowledge that reporting itself will not eliminate the gender pay gap but will bring mainstream awareness to the issue and incentivise employers to play their role in closing the gap. We were disappointed that the Government did not take on board the amendments put forward by my colleague, Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, on Committee Stage around strengthening the Bill in relation to the roll-out period, the class of employer that regulation is applied to and the inclusion of employees who are on flexible working-hour contracts. These were debated by Deputy Funchion in the Dáil.

We also believe that the Bill should provide for the inclusion of an amendment for the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015. We do not agree with the length of time given for the reporting mechanism to kick in, depending on the size of the organisation. We propose that reporting start sooner, at 50 plus employees. Reporting must be extended to organisations with fewer than 50 employees. The vast majority of SMEs employ 50 or fewer people. We believe that 20 plus employees would be a much more worthwhile figure for the purposes of collecting this important data.

We also want the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to play a bigger role in the monitoring and enforcement of the regulations and that where an employer fails to publish the required information on one or more occasion within a five-year period the Minister would make a request to that company and that the title of the company be published by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

On Second Stage, I welcome the Bill. Wage discrimination for women and also people at the intersections of race, sexual orientation and gender identity, must end.

I thank Senator Warfield for his use of time. It was good because we are under pressure of time. If everyone listed here is to speak, we will not have time for the Minister. I would ask Members to be conscious of the time.

I will try to reduce to six minutes to allow time. I am sure we are keen to hear the Minister's response to the issues raised.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for bringing this Bill. It is also appropriate to thank Senator Bacik. Fundamentally, this piece of legislation is part of a suite of legislation looking at the intersection between gender equality and employment rights which Senator Bacik has brought through these Houses, including the important legislation on collective bargaining and, indeed, her new proposals in respect of reproductive rights leave. It is appropriate to acknowledge that because it is an example of taking two equality issues and looking deeply at how they can intersect and how we as legislators can address them both together.

There are areas in Senator Bacik's legislation which, I believe, are stronger than this legislation. I understand many of the principles but an excessively cautious approach, not in terms of impact but in terms of timing, and strength and scope of impact, is being taken throughout this Bill.

I join with others in saying that the idea of waiting three years before we look to employers of 150 or fewer workers is not acceptable at all. It is taking place, the Minister should bear in mind, not simply in the situation where we were a couple of years ago when we were debating the original legislation which has had very long debate and lots of scrutiny, but also in the context of a new Citizens' Assembly which has made clear recommendations and set hard timelines for the kind of gender equality it wants to see in our workplaces. This Bill is also coming through at a moment post-Covid at the brink of just transition when we are seeing a considerable amount of companies restructuring and reorganising themselves, and the potential rise in remote working. It is really important that they get things right from the beginning. Part of them getting things right, their environmental policy, looking at how they use remote working and ensuring that it does not, for example, damage opportunities for progression but that they think things through is that they would be reporting on the gender pay equality issues. I would urge that, on Committee and Report Stages, the Minister would reduce that three-year period to allow for this to be meaningful and in tune at least with the moment we are in, if not ahead of it.

I also note and agree with the concerns about the many places in the Bill where we talk about "Regulations made under this section may prescribe...". That may be a choice in drafting but it is important that there is certainty and predictability. In that context, I say "will" would be more appropriate so that we do not have an incremental piece arguing for the delay in these being brought in because we have only tried it this way for a while, we changed it there for a while and now we are only finally producing regulations in one of the aspects. It needs to start strongly and with intent and clarity.

I want to highlight a few areas that I believe might need further strengthening within the Bill. There are aspects that are really good. I welcome that the median is being discussed in terms of hourly remuneration. I also welcome that there is an identification of certain different kinds. There is a recognition, for example, of temporary contracts and temporary employees. That will be really important. We need to make sure this legislation works for all kinds of employees and that it catches the facts of more insecure working-style contracts for many women in the workplaces. I am concerned that we may not be catching it at the top. While bonuses are addressed, it is not clear whether benefits-in-kind, for example, will capture the situations we are seeing increasingly where shares are being given as part of a remuneration package. It is important that would be caught and monitored, and some of the particular privileges and measures that are given to special assignees. We need to be looking at the gender equality at that level in the workplace as well and making sure that is captured.

I welcome the fact that there is at least a snapshot whereby there is a requirement for reporting on the numbers of staff at each quintile within a workplace. There is something still around progression. That is why being clearer about the times in which this reporting will take place is important. That is something that has been key to the success of, for example, the Athena Scientific Women's Academic Network, SWAN, programme within the university systems. That programme charts and requires evidence of progression and rather than merely a disappointing snapshot from time to time, it shows where is the movement between different levels and what addresses are there. As Senator Warfield said, there are many reasons for the gender pay gap but they are not excuses. They are problems to be tackled that they identify. It is around less women being promoted into higher-paid roles, it is about missing rungs of the ladder for women climbing within organisation but is also around certain kinds of work being undervalued compared with other kinds of work. There are a number of issues to tackle. For this to be effective, we need this legislation to provide not only a snapshot but arrows towards sectoral changes because some of the changes will be specific to specific sectors and to the wider national and legislative changes that we need to take to tackle these issues.

I welcome the Bill. I look forward to engaging on it. There are a few areas that may need strengthening and there are loopholes. We also need to show seriousness about this and, indeed, passion about implementing it. That is why I would urge that the Bill be reviewed by the Minister's office with just the thought of if we wanted this to send the strongest possible signal, how would we strengthen it. There are some very good ideas in Senator Bacik's original legislation in that regard and there are also some good ideas from the Citizens' Assembly.

I will finish early in order to facilitate colleagues.

I welcome the Minister and very much welcome his bringing the Bill to the House, thereby following through on the commitment in the programme for Government. This is a proud day for me because I founded the cross-party group on workplace equality, which focused on the gender pay gap, in 2016. That groups started a conversation in Leinster House and we held many briefings for Senators and Deputies. At the time people looked at me when I mentioned the gender pay gap because they did not know what it was. There was a realisation in both Houses that it was a real matter that needed to be tackled.

I am very happy to be joined today by two co-chairs of the group, Senators Bacik and Currie. The group has grown in strength and we are very happy to see the legislation coming today. I am glad the Minister pointed out that this Bill is just one of a suite of measures because it cannot be seen as solving the problem in isolation. I am very happy to have been involved with the WorkEqual campaign with Ms Sonya Lennon down through the years, and speaking about this and getting it on the political agenda is always the first step in any campaign. We will not get into the justification of a gender pay gap but it exists. There are many pay gap deniers out there and we have heard from some today but that gap exists and it is a real problem not only for individuals but society and the economy.

There are a number of reasons for the gender pay gap and I will run through some of the more common. As the Minister pointed out, the lack of pay transparency is a major contributor and was the top contributing factor as identified by submissions when consultations on the matter opened. There is also the question of women stepping out of the workforce for family reasons and a lack of affordable childcare. We heard about giving women choice but most women I know do not have the choice to return to their jobs. Where I live in north county Dublin, which has a rapidly expanding population, there are not enough crèches or childminders. For women who have the option of local childminders or crèches, the cost is completely unaffordable and inaccessible from a pay perspective.

If we are to give women a real choice, the State must once and for all involve itself in childcare provision. There is a historical unwillingness on the part of the State to get involved with childcare provision because it is almost seen that a woman's place is in the home and it will not facilitate anything going against that. I am thankful that this view is being met head-on but we must seriously and radically overhaul how we do childcare in this country.

We can even look around the gender pay gap for women with children but studies have demonstrated that women aged between 25 and 46 with a degree in Ireland earn 28% less than male counterparts, whether they have a child or not. These differences are down to gender.

There are also differences in gendered occupations. It is a sort of chicken-and-egg scenario because women are in low-paid careers or are the careers low paid because this is where women work and this is the value we put on work done by women?

My colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, referred to the legal profession and I know much about that as I am a solicitor as well. She is dead right in pointing out that high-paid aspects of the law are dominated by male solicitors while the touchy-feely lower-paid aspects are dominated by women. It is very hard for women to break into the higher-paid legal careers. We have more female solicitors in Ireland than we have ever had but they are not becoming partners.

My time is nearly up but I have pages of material. I could stay here talking about this and use all the time for the debate. There is conscious and subconscious bias and historical inequalities, as pointed out by Senator O'Reilly. Women are constantly asked for their pay history, meaning this inequality is carried forward. There are performance reviews based on subjective factors and there may be a company culture where men may be seen as better performers or given more opportunities to network. We all know about the golf outings but we have not all been invited to them. Women do work within organisations, collecting for birthdays and organising nights out. These are not billable hours but they are very important to the production and work environment. Women do this but when it comes to a pay review, it is not taken into account.

This Bill is the first step we can take. What gets measured gets done so I am very happy to see this Bill here. I hope the Minister will pursue this and I have every faith he will. He should also pursue the other suite of measures. Companies do not have to wait on legislation as they can start doing audits and putting systems in place now.

I thank the Minister for presenting this vital legislation to the House. We have waited for it for a long time. The gender pay gap is often criticised as being a blunt measurement and the argument is the 14.4% pay gap does not mean women are necessarily paid that much less in a like-for-like scenario, although I know that happens. We already have the right to equal pay but we lack transparency

The gender pay gap is the overall national percentage difference in average hourly pay for men and women, with women earning 14.4% less than men for every hour that they work, on average. That happens across their lives and across workplaces. Women are more likely to work part-time and be in senior positions. They are far more likely to take unpaid caring roles, whether caring forwards for their children, backwards for parents or U-bending, namely, doing both. This reflects my life stage and that of most of my friends.

Women are deeply affected with the gender pay gap by their role in having children. With the leave they take they are more likely to fall out of the workplace, as I did because of a lack of flexible work and trying to juggle everything. There is also the question of accessible and affordable childcare, which can make it less likely that women will return to work. Sometimes women just want to spend time at home, which is okay too. I will never regret the years I spent at home with my children, as they were the best years. It is a pity they do not remember it now. There is also the question of subconscious bias.

Covid-19 has demonstrated how we regress when under pressure. There is a lack of progress. Some have criticised the gender pay legislation as a blunt instrument and there is a more complex position to be reflected but this requires a holistic response. This legislation is the start, not the end. It will not solve the problem but show where it lies in more detail. It will provide badly needed data.

It is really important that information should be transparent and employees know how their organisation is performing. Workers should be protected from being identified but they should be empowered to take action if they wish. It is great that details are being published under ministerial guidelines to include mean and median gaps in hourly pay, bonus pay, part-time pay, as well as benefit-in-kind. The employee threshold is initially 250 and that will reduce to 50, with a review in four years. There are countries that have made progress on this matter, and in Iceland that number is 25, in Finland it is 30 and in Sweden it is ten. I would like us to be ambitious with this trajectory. I take on board Senator Clifford-Lee's point and progressive companies should take it on board.

It is also very positive that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will the power to apply to the Circuit or High Court for an order requiring a person to comply with ministerial regulations and that an individual employee may make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.

I welcome this legislation as part of our strategy to address equality of opportunity, this must feature in a bigger framework for meaningful and transformative change. This should focus not just on the problem but on the solutions. I mean this both in terms of a national strategy and the need for organisations to produce their own action plans to address pay and career equity. We require change at every level of society, whether it is in homes, workplaces or in national policy. Employers can play a key role in this and we must democratise our workplaces. We are not at that point yet. We have 100 years of workplaces in this State but the office has not cracked it for everybody.

We need affordable and accessible childcare and flexible workplaces for all.

It needs to be a level playing field. There is an emphasis on remote working at the moment but remote working is only one part of flexibility. The people who cannot access remote working can access other parts of flexibility. I have mentioned Finland to the House before as an exemplar. We need to democratise our own homes where the care is shared and valued. I agree with Senator O'Reilly's comments about tax individualisation which is something that I am still very much against. This is ultimately about facilitating choice and increasing opportunities. Although I could go on I will stop there.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is rather ironic that we are sitting in this House with female Members discussing the gender pay gap in the most unfriendly female workspace in the country. The furore we had when the Minister for Justice was pregnant and seeking maternity leave was outrageous as was that this should happen in a modern society.

November 9 has been mentioned today as the day when women will stop being paid while men will continue on receiving payment. The 14% figure has been mentioned. The State has set targets of a reduction of 9% by 2025, 4% by 2030, and eliminating pay discrimination by 2035. Let us be honest about it because pay legislation has been enacted for over 40 years. Why would we take to 2035 to flatten the curve to have everybody in the same pay? That baffles me.

I commend Senator Bacik and the Labour Party for their Bill which was brought into this House in 2017. I ask the Minister as he passes through Committee and Report Stages here to seriously take on board any amendments that are brought forward. Senator Bacik, in particular, has been a great champion of equality right down through the years for as long as I can remember.

The issue of pay gaps in the public sector does not arise to a great deal. In my time as president of the Teachers Union of Ireland I came across eight women who were employed by a vocational education committee as teachers, who worked a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job every week and through the month of July. They received the month of August as holidays. When I came across these women, the first thing that crossed my mind was that the vocational education committee would not have dreamed of doing that if there was one man on the staff. The bottom line therefore is that women have been exploited right through the ages. I know from working with men in an environment where we had equal pay that the issue of pregnancy was a constant issue of discussion which revolved around how women were planning their pregnancy to ensure that they were out for a year or were doing this, that or the other. We have to get away from that and start treating people as equals.

I have many things I wish to say here but time is running short. The public sector is very good insofar as labour is organised and represented. People have been talking here about going to the Workplace Relations Commission to make representations on issues such as pay. None or very few individuals are strong enough to go into the WRC on their own to fight their corner. That is why I will use my last two seconds or minute to plead with people in the private sector to join a union and to become part of organised labour where one has somebody watching one’s back all of the time. So many companies now want people to come in without being members of organised labour. They say that they will have a workplace committee and we have legislated for that. Exploitation, however, is going on all of the time and most of the time in my 25 years of trade unionism most of the exploitation that I saw was against women. I am pleading with women in the private sector to organise labour, join a trade union to be represented and to go forward as a cohesive group. That is the one request I make.

Stopping off at 50 employees as a threshold is not the way to go. We need to drop that threshold down to 20 or even ten employees. There is no such requirement as we have known for a long time that this is coming. There is no need to stage this in the way the Minister is talking about. As my time a short I will stop there.

I welcome this debate and it is good to see that the Bill has been strengthened since its incarnation in 2019. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Clifford-Lee, and Sonya Lennon who started the very good WorkEqual campaign in 2016 which certainly educated me and many others about this particular issue. Closing the gender pay gap is a priority for the Government and completely rightly so.

It is estimated that at the current pace of change it would take 55 years to close the pay gap. That is quite shocking when one thinks about it. We need to accelerate any change that we can make and it is incumbent on all of us in this House, and of course in the Dáil, to do that. The gap is experienced very acutely by older women, women from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with disabilities. It has a particularly difficult impact on certain cohorts of women and we need to be very mindful of that. Possibly this is because women are disproportionately represented in low-paid and precarious employment. The gap at the moment is spoken about as 14.4% meaning that women are really only being paid for 75% of the year. I suggest that it is higher than that at the moment because when we saw the unemployment figures coming through as a result of the pandemic, we certainly noticed that the increase in these figures was higher among women than men. It could be as high as 17% at this point in time.

Pay transparency is recognised internationally as a good tool to help reduce pay gaps because it gives access to information to employees. That is important. It is a first and important step but this is really about how we move forward, what happens next, the follow-through and the cultural change within our employment sector.

The gender pay gap is, of course, not just a gap it is a gaping injustice. We need a fair and equal economy that rewards work and not gender. Gender should not come into any element of pay. People need to be paid a fair wage or salary for the work they do. This legislation will not be enough in its own right. We need to work on other areas that will help to reduce the gender pay gap and one of these is to establish affordable childcare. That has to be a priority for this Government. I know that the Minister fully takes on board the issues around supporting childcare for families and I know that point had been well made by other colleagues.

Shared parental leave also has to be improved. This was dealt with in a Bill that I and Senator Chambers brought in to the last Dáil. There are many different areas that we need to look at to support women in and coming back into the workplace, and for many reasons. We all saw the impact of the 2012 legislation in respect of women’s pension inequity. This was quite shocking. We have moved some way in changing that but the longer women are out of work or in lower-paid employment, the greater the pension gap is going to be which will create problems down the line.

It is great to hear the announcement today from the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on the 10,000 places are that are going to be made available on the Springboard+ scheme to encourage people back into the workplace and that women are included in that. It is fair and accurate to say that it is our generation’s task to eradicate inequality and that is a very difficult job to do. We should be able to eradicate discrimination and the gender pay gap is a form of discrimination against women. I thank the House.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is welcome to the Chamber. I am delighted that we are finally debating Second Stage of this Bill today. It has been a while coming. I pay tribute in particular to my colleague, Senator Bacik, who introduced legislation in this space four years ago.

I wish to make two main comments about the Bill. The first is how important it is to understand the enormity of the gender pay gap and that there is no single bullet. I am heartened to hear all the comments today. The Bill is just one tool in reducing the gender pay gap. The Minister has heard me talk about the need for collective bargaining. The right to be recognised for collective bargaining purposes for both men and women is probably the single greatest tool for closing the gender pay gap. There have been many references to the 14% hourly pay gap. I get very frustrated when people talk about such a pay gap. How many of us ever think in terms of how much we are paid per hour? What does the pay per hour ever tell us about our ability to pay bills, our standard of living or the quality of people's work? What people get paid per week or per month is what is important. In 2019 the Central Statistics Office, CSO, earnings data based on administrative data sources told us that the gap between women and men in the labour force is more than 25%. When we look at those in retirement, the gap is even greater at 28.6%. We must look at the pay per hour, but we must also look at the hours per week. We know that 30% of all women in employment in this country are in part-time employment compared with 11% of men, so it is the weekly pay gap that we need to address.

The second point focuses on my concerns about the Bill. While I am delighted that we are discussing the Bill, I am concerned about its lack of ambition. I appeal to the Minister to get this right now, as opposed to waiting five years for the review to try and address some of the shortcomings as I see them in the existing Bill. The first relates to the number of workers who will be covered. What was the evidential basis for deciding on workplaces with 50 or more workers and that the legislation would start with workplaces of 250 or more workers? The pace of introduction is incredibly slow. Workplaces with more than 50 workers would only cover 57% of all employees in this country. It would cover less than 2% of all workplaces. How can we expect to make any dent on the gender pay gap if nearly half of all workers in this country will be unaffected by this legislation?

My second concern relates to the failure to compare full-time and part-time workers. It has been eloquently articulated by many speakers today that those who are in a part-time work trap have greater difficulty in accessing pay progression in terms of career progression. Working part time has a significant and real impact on women and men, but women in particular, as there is a greater share of women in part-time employment and therefore on their capacity to progress in the workplace. We must compare full-time workers with part-time workers.

The third point I wish to make is how some of the criteria stipulated in the Bill, in particular regarding temporary work and the share of female workers per quartile across a company, are different to the treatment set out in section 2, which looks at the median, mean, bonuses and other criteria between men and women. We must be as ambitious as possible for this legislation. Let us get it right now. We will submit a number of amendments which I look forward to tabling before next Monday.

I welcome the Bill, as have most speakers in the debate. I congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. This is an issue of concern for a very long time. Some of my colleagues in the legal profession fought this battle decades ago and established in the courts the discrepancies in the way people were paid different amounts for the work they were doing. They deserve great credit for that. Many of them are still in practice and still fighting that battle. It is very difficult for us to understand why it has taken so long to bring solutions here, but I praise the Minister for the work he has done and the commitment he has given to this matter.

I will respond to some of the questions that were posed. It is very important to acknowledge that this is the beginning of a body of work that I hope will bring a resolution to this issue, but it is not the solution in and of itself. It is not a panacea to address discrepancies in pay rates.

Senator Mullen commented on the fact that the Bill was not voted against by any Deputy when it went through the Dáil. I do not agree that it is a reason for scepticism. Sometimes when legislation goes through the Houses, we are all ad idem on it because it makes sense and it is the right thing to do. That is sometimes why legislation is not challenged.

I read the European Commission's report some years ago that dealt starkly with the different pay rates and specifically the gender pay gap in Europe in the various member states. At the time I read it I had some difficulty with the methodology that had been employed. It is very popular in politics today to say one has travelled a journey on an issue and it is easy for me to say that as somebody who was not subject to the gender pay gap. I know that it existed when I was an employee in the private sector in the past. When I look back at women who worked with me, with whom I was friendly, I know they were not paid the same rate as me, so I know it happens. One of the difficulties I had with the European Commission's report was that it did not allow, for example, for the number of years worked by a person who had taken maternity leave. I now realise in retrospect that it should not have taken account of that because there is a fundamental unfairness and inequity in saying that somebody should be penalised essentially for being a parent. The fact is that only women can bear the biological burden of giving birth to children, taking maternity leave and creating the bond in the early years and there is a fundamental unfairness in saying that they should be penalised in their work status thereafter. That is very important for us to recognise. It is one of the many areas of concern. Many speakers have spoken about the different areas in which women are discriminated against in the workplace, but it is one area, in particular over the course of a longer career and in the higher paid professions and in positions in multinational companies, where women suffer when they take time out to avail of maternity leave. Even in the past year since I became a Senator, we have talked in this Chamber about the benefits and the importance of providing leave for both parents and the need to facilitate the early years for parents. It is so wrong that we would penalise those people for taking the opportunity to be a parent in that context, but more than that, it is also important that we do not disincentivise parenthood and people who occupy that position because we need them to take on that role. We need them to provide the workers of the future, the taxpayers of the future, the pension payers of the future. That is tremendously important.

I will make one other point that is tremendously important to mention in the context of this debate. I bring myself back to January 2020 during the general election campaign in Dún Laoghaire when all of the candidates were invited to a hustings in Loreto College, Foxrock, which is a girls school near where I live. There were fourth, fifth and sixth years at the event. One of the girls asked what we would do about the gender pay gap. A response was given by a right wing candidate suggesting that the pay gap was a myth, who subsequently came last in the election and lost his deposit. That was enlightening. Much more important than that was the fact that young girls who were certainly not in full-time employment were aware of the issue, understood it and were willing to raise it. While we require employers, the Government, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, and society to take note of it, that gave me great hope because in the future we also need employees to know their rights, to stand up for their rights and question it when they know they are subject to a pay gap that is based on gender or some other spurious ground. It gave me great hope that there was a young woman in that position, raising the issue and fighting that battle. I hope she will continue to do so when she becomes an employee. I congratulate the Minister and look forward to him passing the legislation.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to speak on this Bill which deals with an important issue. I want to begin by addressing some of the comments made by Senator Mullen about comparing apples and oranges. His remarks were facetious. If he actually went out, he would find this is based on evidence. I would certainly encourage him to look at Central Statistics Office, CSO, data or the data compiled over a long period by the Higher Education Authority on graduate salaries. If one looks at the CSO data, based on all of its research comparing the median income levels in every single profession across the board, it shows, almost consistently, that men earn more than women. Senator Ward is correct about some of the higher professions. Doctors on average were found by the CSO to be earning on average about €30,000 more per year if they were male rather than female.

Prior to my election to the Oireachtas, I worked with the Higher Education Authority which carried out annual surveys of graduates which discovered there was a pay gap between male and female graduates. For the most part, these were ambitious young people who have succeeded and performed. However, that gap continued to exist. In fact, it is found to exist even a year or two after graduation and, in many cases, a decade or so. For those graduates between the ages of 30 and 50, that gap tended to widen. One fact I found quite interesting was that, nine months after graduation, a male would earn €35,600 on average while a female would earn €31,680. There is the valid point that men are over-represented in courses around business and technology. However, when one compares like for like, we are still talking about an annual difference of €1,876. Even among our third level graduates, there continues to be a significant difference.

This is not going to solve the gender pay gap in and of itself. As we become more aware of the issues and there is more transparency, it will help. I agree with Senator Higgins when she referred to the Athena SWAN, scientific women's academic network, programme that operates in our third level institutions. It is important we do not just publish the data but that we look at ways in which progress can be measured.

Much more needs to be done, however. Following on from Senator Ward in regard to young people who are aware of this issue, we need to look at addressing some of the challenges within some of our schools. There are problems still within some of our schools. For instance, in many female-only schools, they do not have access to subjects such as mechanical drawing which often leads to careers in a particular way. In male-only schools, they do not have access to home economics. From even an early age, if one does not have access to particular subjects, that almost defines the career choice that one will have to follow.

We have the potential to challenge some of the stereotypes. In some of those careers which have been, or seem to be, traditionally dominated, by one gender or another, we need to place much more effort. We have got to place much more emphasis on encouraging young girls and women into technology and computing. In teaching, education and other careers, we have got to look at ways of encouraging far more young men. One is what one can see. This remains one of the challenges that we see with regard to the gendering of professions. I do not believe this legislation will solve all of our problems. Certainly, in terms of transparency and making the data clear, what we can see we will be able to address.

I welcome the Minister. This Bill is certainly welcome. It has been spoken about for a long time and, as the Minister acknowledged, much work has been done previously on this topic. It is good to see it introduced here today. As my colleague, Senator Warfield, said, we will be supporting the Bill.

The important role both the trade union movement and the National Women's Council of Ireland have played in championing this issue for many years must be recognised. When I joined SIPTU in the mid-2000s, I remember being told that the gender pay gap was at 17%. Fourteen years later, it is at 14%. If we were not to act now, by a rough calculation, we would be waiting another 70 years to try to get some sort of equality. It is important that we take action now.

The Bill is welcome but it could be better and more ambitious. I agree with Senator Sherlock on that. The Minister might address this on Committee Stage.

I do not understand why there is a distinction between temporary and permanent workers, particularly when one third of workers who are aged 24 or younger are on temporary contracts. That cohort of younger workers will be particularly impacted, unfortunately, by temporary contracts. There should not be a distinction between permanent employees and temporary workers. It is a simple change to make and I urge the Minister to do so. We know, unfortunately, that women take up more temporary contracts than men, just as they take up more part-time jobs than men. That point was very well made by an earlier speaker. It is a simple way to improve the Bill and make it more inclusive. I would welcome a positive engagement on that particular issue.

It would be useful for the Minister to explain why we have to wait three years for companies with 150 employees or fewer. These asks are particularly onerous of companies. This has been spoken about for many years. This will be part of the Minister's legacy after this Government ends and yet the Bill will not effectively be in place for most workers. That does not seem right. I urge the Minister to be a little more ambitious in terms of the timings. Sinn Féin's position is that companies with 20-plus employees should be included. This is not onerous information for small companies to put together. It would mean more workers are included.

I am concerned about the lack of clarity around fines. The points made on publicity are important. Like an earlier speaker, I welcome the fact that Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, hearings will now be in public. It never made sense for them to be held privately. The issue of retrospective payment raised by Senator Seery Kearney is a good point which the Minister should look at as well. One of my concerns is that going to the WRC is quite onerous unless one has a trade union or a member of the legal profession to represent one. Some set of fines would be a much clearer device that could be used, a measure which could be looked at on Committee Stage.

As other Members said, this is just one of a number of items which need to be tackled. It has been a good debate this afternoon because several Members raised the issue of childcare. Childcare is a central issue in this. It makes no sense that we organise childcare on an ad hoc basis. We would not dream of organising national school education on an ad hoc basis, provided by some private or community groups. It has to be State-led. The Government needs to make that move. I welcome the moves in train of, hopefully, setting up an employment order to try to raise terms and conditions. I have acknowledged that previously to the Minister. However, that is only part of the journey. If we are going to tackle the issue of childcare, we need to do what all progressive countries do. The best models are in Scandinavia. We need to develop a State-led childcare system.

We need to see further action on the living wage. Again, we know the lowest paid workers are predominantly women. Again, we need to see further action on that. Above all, we need to see action on collective bargaining. I am disappointed by the Government on this because it seems to have set its face against granting collective bargaining rights, particularly its action in writing to the European Commission to request an EU directive not be binding on collective bargaining. That is a hugely disappointing stance for the Government to take. I urge it to reconsider.

I recognise this Bill is a progressive step. I look forward to Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to the House. I apologise I was missing for a good chunk of the debate.

I heard his opening address, but I was trying to deal with a pressing matter.

This Bill is very welcome. It is embarrassing that we are still only at this stage when it comes to the gender pay gap. It really and truly should not be an issue in 2021 and that it is necessary to bring in legislation to force companies to provide information. To think that women are paid 14% less than their male counterparts, who are doing precisely the same type of work, is unforgivable. In the EU, I think that figure is 16%, which beggars belief given the principle behind the EU programme. One has to wonder. In addition to that, people with disabilities tend not to have the confidence and strength of character to negotiate with a strength of character, conviction and belief because they are grateful to get a job in the first place, to a large extent. It is shocking to think that approximately 80% of people with disabilities in this country still rely on State support. In this day and age, one can see the depth of quality of people with disabilities and the contribution they can make and are making, yet eight out of ten find themselves needing State supports. It is breathtaking. It all feeds into the overall discussion of equality of opportunity, employment, pay and conditions.

This Bill is welcome. I remember, in the last Seanad, Senator Bacik highlighted this issue among many other issues that affect people in employment, women in employment in particular. It is an incremental step in the right direction, that is for sure. I share concerns that a company with 150 employees or less will not be subject to scrutiny for a protracted period of time. Looking at the community I come from, most of the businesses there employ fewer than 150 people. I would struggle to think of one, outside of a public service operation, that employs more than 150 people in the north-west Clare area. Therefore, workers in all those companies will not have their situation and the discriminatory nature of their payment articulated for some time.

I cannot see any logic in not fast-tracking this, to be quite frank about it. Business is a bureaucratic nightmare in this country anyway. Including a simple reporting mechanism once a year in terms of what people are paid – the figures and the data are there anyway – is not going to add to the bureaucratic nightmare that is running a business in this country. I urge the Minister to talk to his officials on whether it is possible to accelerate the timeframe of this, because our generation is the generation that will be judged on dealing with this issue for once and for all. Previous Oireachtas Houses dealt with glaring issues like the eighth amendment, which needed to be dealt with and was dealt with by the last Oireachtas, as was the marriage equality situation. We became world leaders when we had a popular referendum on marriage equality which passed. Let us become world leaders and show the EU how it is done. Let us bring the figure of 14% down to nil and do it at an accelerated pace. There is no reason this cannot happen within months rather than years. If we do that, we will have the moral authority to lecture and talk about equality to other countries, not just in the EU, but worldwide. However, not until such time as we get our house in order. We can do it, we should do it, we will do it and it is the right thing to do. Let us do it in a reasonable period of time. Let it be one of the legacies of this Government. Let us not rush to get this done at the end of the term of this Government. Let us backfill it and do it at the start of the term of this Government. We are a year into its term, at the end of this month. By year 2, let us have grasped the nettle on this issue and have dealt with it. Then we can show ourselves as an example, yet again, on social issues to other parts of the world.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as teacht isteach. I thank him profoundly for all his work done since last July on many issues on inequality in different guises. This Bill is very welcome. I know the Minister is only getting started and is not going to nail everything in one Bill, which would be impossible. The programme for Government committed to legislating for the requirement of the publication of the gender pay gap in large companies and this Bill fulfils that commitment, so I thank him for that. We can tick it off the long list in our programme for Government.

The gender pay gap is not equal pay for equal work, that is not what this Bill is about. There is much confusion in the media and certain sections of society over what this is about. It is not a simple task of paying women the same as men. The question of why we have more women in lower income jobs than men must be answered. We have fewer women in senior and high earning roles. We need employers to ask themselves why that is. With or without any Bill, why are we here today, in 2021, having to pass such a Bill? We must challenge everyone, including certain Members of the House in the way they have spoken, to ask ourselves whether we have gender stereotypes. Do we have them throughout society, in schools, the media, advertising, in our minds? Statistically, men apply for jobs they feel underqualified for more than women do. Why is that?

Of course, we must improve conditions for the care sector and value parents who chose to stay at home more, both fathers and mothers. It often seems women must work harder to be appreciated in their job. Even then, they can be seen as overeager or getting too big for their boots, while men, if they have charisma and charm, can often get away with not being as hard working. We must encourage employers to tackle bias in recruitment, promotion and pay. Going deeper, we have much work to do in understanding why so many roles are gender specific. Why are there far more women in caring roles, such as teaching, nursing and stay-at-home parenting? I do not think it is fair to say that women care more than men, yet we seem to be the ones doing most of those caring roles. Why are there many more men in cerebral roles, roles which are seen as academic? I did a degree in maths, physics and computers and I was one of the only women in the place. I was often told that I was grand, the lads would sort out the project, and that I should just sit and look pretty, that sort of thing, or shift one of the lads. There is much more going on than what this Bill is dealing with, but we must look at the cause of the Bill.

Parents also have a role to play, as do toyshops, kids clothes designers and everyone else. There are significant specific issues. I was at a child’s birthday party recently where there were gender specific lucky bags. There are gender specific lucky bags, clothes, toys, scooters and even bikes for children. It is ridiculous. It drives me insane to see that it seems to have become worse. Some 19 years ago, I took my son to a large toyshop for his first and last time. There was a cerise pink aisle with all the dolls, babies and pink stuff, and then there was the war and sports aisle, with the camouflage and blue for the boys. That was 19 years ago. I cannot imagine what it is like now. I decided that day that I would not go into one of those places again. For someone who is sporty and into wearing sporty clothes, I found it completely maddening. Recently, I brought my ten-year-old niece on a shopping trip, but we could not find anything for her because she was like me, she was sporty. Everything had sequins and frills which she was not into. We do children a disservice that this is still going on in this day and age. We must push back on the private and public sector.

It is not specific to men. Sexism is rife among all of us. I remember going to Calais with 53 volunteers, one of whom was really glamorous. I was thinking "Oh my god, she will be mother useless". She was by far the best. She stopped wearing make-up, rolled up the jeans and the sleeves and got stuck in. I learned from that experience that we have a deep sexism coming from the patriarchy and previous generations which we must check ourselves on. I often find through my experience in environmental, activist and lefty movements, that I experience sexism there as well. I might make a valid point and the male facilitator would not hear me. Then a man would come on, make the exact same point and would get huge validation for it. It is there and it is everywhere. We must realise that we have it within ourselves as well.

One has the stay-at-some dads. They are also, in some ways, undermined or seen as being less as men. One can have the case of the father of a child who never turns up or pays any maintenance of any kind, rocks up once on the school sports day, and all the women think he is amazing.

The standards have to be equal. All we want is equality. We are not saying that we are better, smarter, more caring or anything. It is just a matter of equality. In 2021, it is embarrassing that we have to have this legislation, but I thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for bringing it in. I think Senator Clifford-Lee for her work since 2016. I thank Senator Bacik and the Labour Party. I do not want to be embarrassed any more living in the State and I look forward to further legislation getting rid of this ridiculous situation.

Well said, Senator Garvey. If the Minister was a woman and woke up tomorrow in Luxembourg, it is a tad smaller than Ireland, with only 630,000 people, but it has the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the Minister was on his way to work, he would be pretty happy getting his croissant and espresso, because there is only a 1% difference in Luxembourg. There is nowhere in the EU where it is zero but in Luxembourg it is 1%. The gender pay gap refers to the difference between the average gross hourly earnings of men and women. This covers all levels and roles within companies. In Luxembourg, there is a good reflection of equality and representation of women.

If the Minister woke up as a woman in Estonia tomorrow, there is a gender pay gap of close to 22%. If using the time of year to show when women stop getting paid well, a woman is probably not getting paid after August. Here in Ireland, when do women stop getting paid compared with men? When a woman is rushing in the morning to get kids ready with her partner or maybe on her own, getting them to school and then going to work on time, or perhaps she is able to do hybrid working, in rural areas she would be extremely lucky to have after-school care and if not, she is racing to pick them up again at 1.30 p.m. Perhaps she might also be a carer. That often happens in rural areas because we have an ageing population. Perhaps she is looking after older family members. When do women in Ireland stop getting paid compared with men? As mentioned here, it is 9 November.

Why does this matter? With Covid and the lockdown, more women have lost jobs, including in hospitality, retail and travel. The lower paid roles, including childcare and healthcare, all impacted on women. Throughout a woman's working life, the gap widens the more time we spend in work. Childcare, family care and taking a break all have an impact on a career, and again the gap widens. If one is a single mother living in Ireland, one is five times more likely to be living in poverty and that means one's children and family living in poverty. We need gender equality now.

We need ways to support women to get back into the workplace, moving towards a living wage and affordable childcare. We have so many opportunities to reskill with more than 10,000 places announced today by the Minister, Deputy Harris, for Springboard+, and we also have ways for women and men to earn and learn with new careers with the plan for apprenticeships.

The PwC Women in Work Index pointed to how gender equality after Covid will regress to 2017. We have to double our efforts over the next few years to reach gender equality. Across the world, The New York Times and The Financial Times refer instead of a recession to a "she-cession" because of the amount of women's jobs lost. The Government recently made commitments in the economic recovery plan to progressing this legislation and to preparing research for a living wage. In the report of the Irish Citizens' Assembly on gender equality, a chapter is dedicated to pay. Recommendation 32 states that targets should be set to reduce the hourly gender pay gap, currently 14%, to 9% by 2025 and to 4% by 2030 with a view to eliminating it by 2035, which would be lucky. That is just shocking.

This Bill means that companies of more than 50 employees will publish information on salaries according to gender and if there are significant differences, should publish a statement about why. We will have this Bill enacted firstly for companies larger than 250 employees and then in a tiered way for more than 150, then for small and medium enterprises of more than 50 in the third year, in both the private and public sector. To match statistics on gender pay gaps with EUROSTAT, which counts companies with more than ten employees, I would like to see this considered at a later stage.

We all need to make this count. If one is a student looking to go to college this year, one will be able to see how one's college holds up when it comes to gender equality. How is it doing with bringing forward female professors? If one is a consumer, how is one spending to support inclusive companies which are going the extra mile? If one is a star graduate looking to kickstart a career, one can now find out about the gender pay gap at the company one is looking at, which is knocking on one's door. If one is in HR, one knows that more diversity makes better decisions and more innovation. That has been proven again and again. One knows the challenge of large pay gaps. If one is a smart investor, one is looking at the gender pay gap.

For funding agencies across each Department, this now needs to become part of how we evaluate companies and businesses when applying for funds. We do not have equality. We need laws and legislation. That is why we need the Seanad at 40% female representation and that is why we need that in the Dáil. I fully support this Bill and ask the Minister to make it count.

I thank Senator Dolan and everybody who partook in the debate, with 19 Senators speaking out of 20 who indicated, which was excellent.

I thank the Senators who have contributed to the debate. We are all of one mind about the need to address this issue. It was a welcome opportunity to discuss the gender pay gap and the proposal before the Seanad. Almost all Senators stated that the gender pay gap was a real and pressing issue that impacts on women in the workforce throughout their working lives and, as a number of Senators pointed out, in retirement as well. The Government is committed to reducing the gender pay gap but it is also conscious that the regulations published under this Bill are only part of the solution. Senators Clifford-Lee, O'Loughlin and Ward all made that point. With 65% of all employees in the State estimated to fall within the scope of the regulations, the publication of gender pay gap information will provide a range of data about firms and sectors and how they contribute to the gender pay gap in the economy as a whole. Senators Higgins and Currie mentioned that both the mean and the hourly wage gap will be disclosed. The former reflects the entire pay range in a company and the latter excludes the impact of unusually high earners. Data will be published on bonus pay, since this is an important element of remuneration in some sectors. Mean and median pay gaps for part-time employees and employees on temporary contracts will be disclosed. It is important to account for temporary contracts. Women work part time to a greater extent than men.

The proportions of male and female employees in the lower, lower-middle, upper-middle and upper quartile pay bands must be published. This will show the extent to which men and women are represented at the various pay levels in a firm. The publication of this information is likely to incentivise employers to take action to reduce the gender pay gap insofar as that is within their control. Sometimes it will not be within their control, perhaps because of segregation in education or the overall labour market, where women are underrepresented in some areas. However, it will be possible in many cases for employers to pursue positive action measures which are within the law and which will, over time, increase the number of women in high-earning, higher-remunerated roles and levels in firms. Having this information will also support and direct Government policy to take meaningful steps to address the gender pay gap, especially where that is beyond a specific employer's control.

Other relevant provisions in the programme for Government which will work in parallel with the regulations that will be made on foot of this legislation to reduce the gender pay gap include being guided by the Low Pay Commission with regard to any future changes to the minimum wage. It includes reducing the cost of childcare for parents through investment in the national childcare scheme, including universal and targeted subsidies to assist parents with childcare affordability and getting back to work and training. That is something that almost every Senator referenced in their contributions and my Department is working to address it. It includes increased leave and support for parents and increased remote, flexible and hub working arrangements.

The Balance for Better Business initiative has had some success in improving gender balance at senior levels. It was established in July 2018 as one of the actions in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020. This independent, business-led review group was established by the Government to improve gender balance and senior business leadership in Ireland. Balance for Better Business has set out actionable and progressive targets for companies listed on Euronext Dublin and for private companies in Ireland to encourage them to address the gender balance issue on their boards and leadership of teams as a matter of priority. Since the initiative was launched, the percentage of women on listed company boards continues to improve, with ISEQ 20 companies now having 27.4%, up from 25.3% in September 2019 and 18.1% when Balance for Better Business was announced in 2018. This surpassed the interim target of 25% by the end of 2020. Actions have been identified and prioritised in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 to address persisting gender stereotypes such as unconscious bias, which is a contributing factor to the gender pay gap.

To address matters outside gender for a moment, Senator Conway spoke about disability and the importance of addressing that issue. I will introduce legislation to deal with elements of the assisted decision-making service.

I will also be bringing in provisions from the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which lapsed at the end of the last Dáil. That includes increasing the public service obligation for employment of persons with disabilities from 3% to 6%, which is a significant increase in the public service obligation. It will be a job of work to achieve that but it is one I am sure the Government and the public sector, working together, can and will achieve.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney and others mentioned the recent Citizens' Assembly on gender, which laid its final report before the Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this month. The issues raised during the work of the Citizens' Assembly and the issues it voted on and made recommendations on reflect the key concerns around addressing some of the biggest challenges we face in moving towards a more gender-equal society. My Department looks forward to working on some of the issues around constitutional amendments, the provision on the position of the woman within the home and dealing with the idea of carers within the home as well. I look forward to working to advance that. The wider recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly are comprehensive and they cut across the work of many Departments. Some 25 of the 45 recommendations sit squarely within my Department, so it was a nice list of work that was handed to us, but it is stuff I am really passionate about working on. Obviously, it is for the Oireachtas, as a whole, to examine and respond to the detailed findings of the Citizens' Assembly. However, as I said, many of the items will be advanced by my Department and, indeed, many of them, like the legislation we are addressing today, were already identified within the programme for Government as something we want to work on.

To conclude, when Senator Bacik and others referenced the issue of the gender pay gap a number of weeks ago, I said it was a priority for my Department and for the Government to have the matter addressed. The slow pace of the development of these proposals has been outlined by the Senator, as well as by Senator Marie Sherlock. What I will say is that we are still within the first year of this Government. We have taken it, we have prioritised it, it has passed through the Dáil and it is coming through this House. I look forward to engaging with Senators on Committee and Report Stages. I and, I think, everyone else want to see this important legislation on the books quickly so we can start to see those reporting mechanisms taking place and we can start to gather the data so wider Government actions can be taken to reduce that gender pay gap, but also to push and support businesses, both in the public and the private sector, to work to reduce and eventually eliminate that gender pay gap.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Monday, 21 June 2021.
Sitting suspended at 3.43 p.m. and resumed at 4.05 p.m.