Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 28 Nov 2018

Vol. 975 No. 6

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

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

Táim sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo. I am delighted to support the Bill and I commend the ongoing work of Senator Bacik, who has long been a champion of women's rights, on introducing it.

While there has been much change in society over the past few decades and many barriers to gender equality have been broken down, this does not mean we can afford to be complacent. Structural and cultural issues that prevent true gender equality remain and they must be overcome through positive measures such as the Bill. It has been more than 40 years since Ireland introduced the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act and yet the most recent CSO figures show that, on average, women in this country are paid 14% less than men. There are many complex reasons such a difference persists, despite laws to prevent gender pay discrimination. Fortunately, overt discrimination has become less frequent, but there continues to be significant gender segregation by occupation and the undervaluing of occupations in sectors that are predominantly female.

Gender equality, like all matters of equality, cannot be achieved by passive acts. It must be won through positive action. We can write the words on paper and pass laws calling for an end to discrimination but without active enforcement, follow-up, research and work, we cannot overcome the more subtle problems. The Bill will work to tackle these subtleties through the collection of data. Detail will show us exactly where problems lie and inform us how we must tackle them. In particular, I welcome the Bill’s call for companies with more than 50 employees to publish information on the proportion of male and female employees in the lower, lower middle, upper-middle and upper-quartile pay bands. There are many organisations where, while men and women on the same band are paid equally, women comprise the majority of the lower pay levels and men the majority of the upper pay levels. Last year we learned this was the case for Departments, where women fail to break through to upper and managerial levels. With data we can learn how systemic this is and develop the policies and supports necessary to address it.

Ending the pay gap will not only be beneficial for women; rather, it will be beneficial to the economy at large. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that cutting the pay gap could boost OECD economies by €4.9 trillion. I hope the measures outlined in this Bill will be extended to cover companies and enterprises with fewer than 50 employees and ensure that areas with precarious employment, in which women are more likely to be employed than men, are monitored and assessed for gender biases.

There is much more work to be done to value women’s work across all sectors and advance gender equality, which is a priority of the Oireachtas women's parliamentary caucus. Senator Bacik’s Bill will make a significant positive impact in addressing gender pay issues.

I strongly support the Bill. A few weeks ago, I was struck that the charity, Dress for Success Dublin, which launched its #WorkEqual campaign, found that on 13 November the women of Ireland would effectively work for free for the remainder of 2018.

While our gender pay gap of 13.9% is lower than the European average of 16.7%, it is still far too high. Across Europe, the gender pay gap ranges from just 5.2% in Romania up to 25.3% in Estonia. We have had an annual European Equal Pay Day since 2011.

The Bill brought forward by Senator Bacik is superior to the Government’s Gender Pay Gap Information Bill, which is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The heads of the Government’s Bill were published on genderequality.ie at the end of June. When addressing the Seanad on the Bill before us, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said that the “thrust and philosophy behind both [Bills] are exactly the same.” The Government’s Bill, however, would amend the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 but would only apply to companies with no fewer than 250 employees. In the Seanad debate, Senator Bacik spoke of how we all wish to see pay transparency legislation. I understand that she met the Minister and his officials to see how they could work together to progress the most legally sound Bill. She also stated that given that the gender pay gap has only narrowed by 4% in the past 11 years, it could, according to estimates from the National Women's Council of Ireland, take up to 170 years to close it completely. We cannot wait that long.

Senator Bacik’s Bill is superior because it provides for the publishing of information on gender pay gaps in companies with no fewer than 50 employees.

Okay. In Iceland, however, the figure is 25 so the legislation there applies to even smaller companies. I agree with the National Women’s Council of Ireland that this should be reduced further but at least it would cover far more companies than provided for in the original Government Bill.

The Bill includes a number of new provisions. The new section 32A(4) sets out the type of information to be published including the differences in mean hourly rates, median hourly rates, bonuses, etc. The new section 32A(5) provides for the status of employees to also be included in the breakdown referencing the ages of employees and whether they are full-time or part-time. This will be particularly interesting given the over-representation of women in part-time employment, and in the huge and growing precariat, and also given the increasing use of if-and-when contracts. The new section 32A(6) provides for the imposition of a class A fine on conviction if these provisions are contravened. The new section 32A(7) provides for the publication of the name of the employer of at least 100 staff who contravenes provisions but I am not sure why there is a difference here for employers with between 50 to 99 staff. Why are all eligible employers also not liable to be publicly named if they are not complying with law? Why make a difference between the size of the companies in this respect?

I recently spoke on the excellent Report on Gender Budgeting produced by the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, of which I am a member. That report was worked extensively on by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Examining gender and equality budgeting has been a big part of the committee’s remit. We have heard from many distinguished stakeholders on the topic, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Members of the Scottish Parliament, IHREC, the Disability Federation of Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association. We had hoped that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, would produce a gender budgeting report alongside budget 2019, which was one of the committee's fundamental recommendations. Hopefully, this will happen in future along with green budgeting. Six pilot projects on equality budgeting are being undertaken by the Departments of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Children and Youth Affairs, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Education and Skills and Health. Just under €2 million has been spent on these programmes, which include initiatives such as requiring more apprenticeships to be available to young women.

The Central Statistics Office produced research on historical earnings in the period 1938 to 2015. That research included an earnings by gender section. Between 1942 and 2007, female industrial workers earned less weekly than their male colleagues. The weekly difference in earnings was €79 in 1942 and this jumped to €215 in 2007 but the actual percentage gap reduced from 50% in 1942 to 31% in 2007. In 2014, the gap for industrial workers was 22.6%. Earlier this year, a marketing agency, Alternatives, released the results of a survey it carried out which showed that in the marketing and advertising sectors men are more likely to receive a higher wage and additional non-salary benefits. As Deputy Catherine Martin noted, that is the case in many professions across the public and private sectors.

In 2017, when Ireland was reviewed by the UN for compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, IHREC reported on the 14% gender pay gap, the 38% gender pension gap and the prevalence of women in lower paid jobs. We know from that report and our own evidence that it is working lone parents who are more likely to live in poverty or at risk of poverty and yet the Government has consistently introduced measures that would continue to harm this cohort of women. One of the characteristics of the policies of the austerity Governments since 2011 has been that the cohort of the most vulnerable women were damaged most. We still have not undertaken fundamental reforms for groups such as women returners, the women who have been out of the workforce for several years and who do not have access to programmes such as community employment. The latter is something in respect of which we did nothing year after year. There is a great deal of ground to be made up but this Bill is an important step. With this and hopefully with the Minister of State’s initiatives, we will achieve vast improvements in this area.

I mentioned Iceland earlier. Iceland introduced a gender equality law in mid-2017. It is now mandatory for companies with over 25 employees to obtain an equal pay certification. It is working to eradicate the gap by 2022. We have seen many reports on the pay gap. In the UK, we saw the outrageous differences in pay between men and women presenters at the BBC across a range of activities.

The legislation introduced by Senator Bacik and the Labour Party is a small step towards transparency and echoes the thrust of my own High Pay and Wealth Commission Bill, which I introduced in the previous Dáil. I warmly support Senator Bacik’s Bill and I commend her and the Labour Party on their work on it.

I thank everyone who has spoken this evening for their support for the Bill but especially for their commendation of our colleague, Senator Bacik, who brought this legislation forward in the Seanad. It is part of her very long record in advancing the cause of women and men in the Seanad.

St. Augustine was an early father of the Church who was reputed to have said "Lord make me pure, but not yet". Much as I like the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton - he a lovely man, just as they used to say about women-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----but his contribution was straight from the school of St. Augustine. He must have been looking at the books last night to put it together. I have had this treatment from Fine Gael in the past, both in government and in opposition. What is happening here is the legislative equivalent of putting something in the fridge and then the deep freezer so that it becomes so covered over in icicles, the Government can grab its own legislation - inferior and all as it might be - and tell us we must run with it instead. I am very glad of the expressions of support for the Bill before the House and the principles contained therein. The Bill can be further improved and we are totally open to that.

I have a friend, Mary Upton, a former Deputy for Dublin South Central who departed this House some time ago. She has a theory about a potted plant and it describes well something to which the Government is prone. I refer to the situation where women cluster around male politicians to create a doughnut, or as Mary used to call it, a potted plant effect. There is far too much of this clustering in photographs on social media posted by various men in the current Government, although I will not name names. There is also an approach whereby women are flattered. Flattery will get you everywhere, as Marx - it might have been Groucho Marx - said. Flattery does not cut it.

The sentiments in the Bill are very clear. In effect, the gender pay gap means that, from November, women work for free. In other words, they are working for free for two weeks of November and all of December.

I want to be clear to women at home that this is what we want to erode and end, namely, the difference whereby women, despite working just as much as men, end up earning less. We have had many examples of this. All of it needs to be changed.

The Minister of State was a little self-satisfied when he said that the public service is better. I draw to his attention a table the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, gave me yesterday which refers to the three top grades in the Civil Service. In 2012, 23% of Secretaries General were women and that has fallen to 21% in 2018, which is a small fall. For second secretaries general, who are usually in large Departments such as the Department of Finance, 40% were women in 2012 and that has fallen to 25% in 2018. At deputy secretary general level, which, again, is a significant public service position, 36% were women in 2012 and that has fallen to 24% in 2018.

The Government should wake up and look at what is happening. We have capable men and women in all parts of the public service and in all walks of life in Ireland. Our demand is simply to mind the gap and to ensure equality between men and women. It is important for young people growing up today, whether they are boys or girls in school, that they feel they can aspire to any field of work or any occupation they wish to pursue, and that our public education system and other services will make their aspirations possible to fulfil. That is what we are looking for. We would not like professions in which there were only women and no men. In that sense, we need to look at areas like teaching to see if more young men might be encouraged to take part in various elements of teaching.

I refer to my involvement, as a politician, in advancing the cause of women. Almost every woman who comes into the House seeks to take one or more steps in favour of women. When I was elected in 1992, I put forward on behalf of the Labour Party, and, to be fair, the then Fianna Fáil Minister, Michael Woods, accepted the proposal to provide 20 years of home care credits for women in the social welfare system, which was important. As Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid, I was involved in orienting our development programme to the poorest people in Africa, who are women and children, and that very much arose out of the Labour Party's philosophy. In more recent years, when we went into government with Fine Gael, as the country was on its knees, in our first budget, in which I was involved as Minister, we reversed the €1 an hour pay cut that had been made to the minimum wage. For a woman working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage, that was worth €30. I have always been proud of that.

During my period as Tánaiste, we established the Low Pay Commission to research the issue of who has low and precarious pay in order that all of us in the Dáil could better address that. We also brought in registered employment agreements to allow for proper trade union negotiations, which made us the only country in Europe, in a difficult economic era, that significantly expanded trade union rights. That is very much in keeping with the philosophy of Connolly and Larkin and our Labour Party history. Not all colleagues are aware of this, or perhaps not all want to be aware of it, but it is worth pointing out. When Deputy Frances Fitzgerald and myself were the only female members of the Cabinet, alongside Máire Whelan as Attorney General, we worked to ensure that women and girls who had been affected by the Magdalen laundries had a process whereby they did not have to go to court and could get redress. It was not perfect but it provided a solution, particularly for women living in England and the United States. Very often, when women left Magdalen laundries, they just got on the first boat and headed away from this country. I am again grateful that the Labour Party, together with Fine Gael, was able to achieve what was a fundamental address of an issue that caused people to suffer all of their lives.

I would like the Minister of State to think again. Sometimes in politics it is better to be generous than to be mean, and this is one of those occasions. We have heard an extraordinary range of agreement. In the end, the Government can produce its own Bill and it can listen to people in business saying, "We cannot do that because we have only 80 employees. Why do people want to know about our business?" In any modern interpretation of what should be available politically in a country, information about firms and companies that command large swathes of our economy is important in regard to how, ultimately, people experience life. If we want to help women in low paid employment or women on social welfare who want to get into employment, we have to make sure we have a way of getting the information from companies. Where companies are not treating women on an equal basis to men, that must be immediately addressed. We have had examples in the public service going back 30 or 40 years and we have addressed them, by and large, except in terms of promotion.

We are in an era of exceptionalism in regard to the appointment of women. For example, in the justice area, recently the Minister, Chief Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions and the head of the Garda were women. For a variety of different reasons, several of them left office and we are now back to a male-dominated structure. I have nothing against any of the men and I know they have achieved their positions on merit. However, this is what the Bill is about. We have to bring in structures that force us to look at whether the proper balance between men and women is present. That is what the debate on the gender pay gap is all about. A society is poorer in a situation where women are treated less well than their male counterparts, particularly when they are doing the same or more work.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate and to respond on behalf of the Government, specifically the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. The explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill does a good job of explaining its purpose and context. It identifies three uses for the information to be published by employers who come within the scope of a scheme. The primary purpose is to provide information to diagnose the causes of the gender pay gap in organisations so as to inform the formation of public policy.

I assume this would require the compilation and analysis of responses from all employers subject to a scheme and for such analysis to be available to the Government for policy purposes. The second use is by employers, providing them with the means to benchmark their gender pay gap against that of their competitors. I note that this would require employers' information to be publicly available. The third use is by IHREC, whereby a scheme would provide it with an additional source of information on differences in the pay of male and female workers employed by an organisation. Such information could inform a decision by IHREC to use its existing powers to invite employers to carry out equality reviews and to prepare and implement action plans. It could also inform a decision by IHREC to carry out such equality reviews and action plans on its own initiative. When the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, spoke on Second Stage in the Seanad on this Bill, he mentioned his concern that we should not enact legislation in this area without having full consultations first with interested stakeholders, in particular with employers and trade unions. We need to ensure the legislation asks for the right information, that it is reported in the most efficient and useful manner and that it will produce the best indicators for future policy direction, not only for national policy but crucially also to support analysis and inform change where it is most needed at the level of the individual employer. I am pleased to say that in the intervening period there has been intensive consultation on the subject. In August 2017 the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, launched a public consultation on the gender pay gap which resulted in 38 written submissions. In January of this year the Minister and the Minister of State for Justice and Equality, Deputies Flanagan and Stanton, and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, hosted a very successful symposium, 'Rising to the Challenge: Addressing Ireland's Gender Pay Gap'. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has met the social partners and officials of the Department have held additional meetings with them and are in ongoing contact on the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2018. Deputy Stanton has also met with other organisations with an interest in the subject and will take on board their concerns and suggestions insofar as it seems appropriate.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality invited the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and the National Women's Council to its pre-legislative scrutiny session on 21 November and if Deputies consult the official report of that session, when it is available, they will see the views of these organisations on the issues which arise. The present Bill covers similar ground to the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2018 which is at an advanced stage of drafting and on which the report of the Oireachtas joint committee is awaited. The Government's preference is for its Bill to proceed to enactment because very extensive amendments to the present Bill would be needed to make it acceptable. The long and short titles would need to be amended as with the substance of the Bill. We do not believe the making of rules on gender pay gap reporting as an IHREC function and therefore we do not think it appropriate that the Bill amends the IHREC Act 2014 but rather that it amends the Employment Equality Acts which already cover discrimination on the grounds of gender in pay.

The 2016 programme for Government said that the Government would promote wage transparency by requiring companies of 50 or more to complete a wage survey. We await the report of the Oireachtas committee on the Bill and we will publish our own Bill after that. Nevertheless, I wish to welcome the initiative of the Labour Party and in particular its Seanad Members in tabling this Bill and I look forward to the enactment and the coming into operation of legislation providing for gender pay gap reporting as soon as possible.

I thank all Members of the House who contributed to this debate and in particular for the very broad acknowledgement of the work done by my colleague in the other House, Senator Bacik, who, I think, has an extraordinary reputation not only on this issue but on a wide range of areas in advancing gender equality the equality agenda and human rights in this country. I appreciate the kind words of other Members of the House on that.

This issue is a real and present one. If there is anything that has come from the contribution of every Member it is that this is an issue that must be addressed and resolved. As we said in the explanatory memorandum of the Bill, this is not a silver bullet or a curative measure but it is a mechanism to understand the nature and scale of the problem and more importantly the location of the problem so that we can provide a solution to it. It has gone on for 17 months. We cannot delay this further and continue discrimination for longer, and no matter what way the Minister of State dresses it up, that is the impact and import of what he told the House today.

My colleague, Deputy Burton, has said that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is a decent man, and he most certainly is, a most honourable man.

A national treasure.

Let us not get carried away.

He is normally also a reasonable man. I have had many discussions with him including only last week about Travellers' rights. He is normally open to progressive ideas but not tonight.

I am not opposing this Bill.

Technically, it seems the Government will not oppose this Bill because-----

It will not support it.

-----that would bring odium upon it. It cannot be seen to manifestly oppose it but it wants to hide behind - and just in case the Ceann Comhairle was not paying attention, it slotted in very overt phrases-----

I was paying attention all right.

In case the Ceann Comhairle was not alert to this, the Bill surely requires a money message. Just in case this matter might be at the Ceann Comhairle's sole discretion, ar eagla na heagla, the Minister of State decided to point that out to him.

If the Government does not want the political odium of opposing it outright, it is not an appropriate way of dealing with it, to send this Bill, as seems to be the intention, into the new limbo we have created in this Dáil. We have created a state of non-existence for Bills that require a money message. This is new politics. My colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan talked about 140 Bills but I think it is closer to 200 Bills from this House alone now in that state of no grace that awaits in the pretence that new politics advances things. As I raised in the House with the Minister for Justice and Equality last week, resolutions of this House, formal decisions of this, our national Parliament, are increasingly being treated like formal decisions of the local debating society in a third level institution. That is very dangerous for our democracy. It is undermining, and cannot be sustained.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who sits close by me said that in the beginning there was a degree of real concern at Cabinet that resolutions would be passed by the Dáil and the Government would be defeated but now it happens three times a week and it is a matter of indifference. That is not the way Parliament should work. We have to address this issue collectively because if it goes on that resolutions of the House or Bills passed on Second Stage are simply put on a shelf to die of old age and neglect, we undermine our democracy. I ask people to reflect on that point.

I was concerned too by the view expressed obliquely enough by the Minister of State, his curious concern about the role of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which would have fairly universal support and admiration around this House. He was concerned that we were giving it a "quasi-legislative power". It is simply to ask it to do up a scheme for reporting, authorised by legislation of these Houses. We often devolve authority to agencies of State, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to bring in regulations to monitor environmental matters.

Somebody crafted that speech, perhaps even the Minister of State himself. It underlines a worrying attitude within the Department to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and I will certainly be more alert to that in future. I have underlined for my own benefit the concerns expressed by the Minister of State in his speech but I will not rehash them in the three minutes I have left. However, the Minister of State knows well that all of them can be addressed on Committee Stage if he wants to do so. The Bill has passed through one House of the Oireachtas and it can pass Second Stage in the Dáil this week. As such, there are only a couple of hurdles left. We could go through Committee and Report Stages this side of Christmas if the Minister of State really wanted to solve this issue and address pay inequality. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, came to the House to say his preference was to advance a Government Bill, but no such Bill exists. Rather, there are heads of a Bill which have been sent by Government to a joint committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. The clue is in the term "pre-legislative". It does not exist as a Bill yet. No matter what happens, that is a year away.

We have to do that. We have no choice.

That is true but the point is that there is a Bill here now which the Seanad has gone through and it debated amendments on Committee Stage. It was open to the Government side to present its own amendments and Sinn Féin amendments were accepted. If there are further amendments to make, let us debate them rather than to pretend there is a difficulty.

I thank Deputies for the thoughtful contributions. I should not be enticed to respond to Deputy Bríd Smith, who is congenitally incapable of making a speech in the House without attacking the Labour Party, but I need to correct a few factual points. She said as a matter of course that Ireland was the worst in the EU in terms of pay equality. In fact, if one looks at the actual statistics published by the OECD, Ireland is better than Spain, Lithuania, Cyprus, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, the United Kingdom, Latvia and Estonia. She also said the European Union was no good as it was no guarantee of gender pay equality. In fact, eight of the ten best performers on pay equality are EU member states. I will not bother going into her other inaccuracies about our term in government. She said that during the term of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is sitting beside me, as Minister for Education and Skills, SNAs were reduced. In fact, they were massively increased in our time in government. In some politics, facts matter no more, but I try to be factual here.

As a smaller party, the Labour Party's Private Members' time is scarce. We have selected this Bill to bring through all Stages because it has been already passed by the other House. I ask the Minister of State to think again. He will be defeated anyway. He knows that. However, it does not matter because he will use other tactics and deny the Bill a money message. Nevertheless, I ask him to allow the Bill to proceed on Committee Stage and to provide the money message. I give him my own guarantee that if there are insuperable problems that the Minister of State finds with the Bill then and his own Bill is galloping up apace, we will address that problem with an open mind. Let us solve the problem now. Let us pass the legislation and show across the House that we are committed to pay equality in this country.

Question put and agreed to.