Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Vol. 252 No. 2

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Senator Bacik will have 12 minutes, the next contributor speaking on her party's behalf will have eight minutes and every other Senator who would like to contribute will have eight minutes. The Minister of State can come in at any stage. If he indicates when he would like to speak, I will let the speaker in possession conclude and he can then contribute.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House. It is always a pleasure to have him come to the House. I thank him for his commitment to, and interest in, the Bill, which I understand he will not be opposing. I am very glad to hear that. I also thank the many organisations and individuals who have given support to the Bill and I hope we can look forward to support from colleagues on both sides of the House. I thank the trade unions, which have been hugely supportive, and have been campaigning in support, of the Bill. I mention IMPACT, SIPTU, the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, the National Women's Council of Ireland and the Irish Second Level Students Union, all of which have come out to support this important Bill.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 seeks to address a glaring and ongoing gender inequality in Irish society, which is the inequality in pay levels between women and men. We call this the "gender pay gap", which is the term used to describe the difference between the pay of women and men calculated based on average difference in gross hourly earnings. In 2013, the European Commission published a major study on the gender pay gap across EU countries, noting that, on average, women in the EU earn about 16% less than men. There is a very wide range of disparity between women and men across different EU countries. This disparity remains the case despite the fact that women generally achieve higher level results at college and at school. Across Europe women represent 60% of university graduates and yet the impact of the gender pay gap over women's lifetimes means that they earn less over their careers, have lower pensions and are at greater risk of poverty when they retire. These figures tend to be borne out across international data. We know that the gender pay gap influences the career paths of women and may shape crucial decisions at each stage of our lives. Gender inequality in earnings will also impact into the future on our capacity to grow old comfortably.

Where does Ireland feature in this? Our gender pay gap, according to European Commission figures from 2013 is 13.9%, almost 14%, which means that women currently earn 13.9% less than men. It is not the worst figure in the EU, nor is it anywhere near the best. It is better than the equivalent gap in our nearest neighbour in Britain, which will not for much longer be in the EU, but the gender pay gap there is 19.5%, a shocking figure. The figure of 13.9% still impacts significantly on women's careers and income levels here. To illustrate it in a more graphic way, the figure equates to women in full-time employment in Ireland working for free for about one month of every year. That perhaps illustrates better than any other figure the real impact of the pay gap on women's lives.

We should remember that it is now more than 40 years since action was taken at EU level to address gender pay inequality. We in Ireland introduced our Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act in 1974, well over 40 years ago, following the introduction of EU pay equality directives and yet we are still seeing this persistent gender pay gap. Therefore, women have still not achieved anything close to income parity with our male colleagues. Why is this the case? A myriad of studies have examined reasons for this and the European Commission's work suggests a number of factors. There may still be cases where women are subjected to direct discrimination in the workplace and paid less per hour than their male counterparts doing the same job, but this is less common now because it is specifically prohibited under both EU and national legislation. However, there are ongoing structural problems, structural barriers to women's pay equality that impact at a less obvious or less overt level on women's pay equality. For example, we have a real problem with occupational gender segregation where women and men are concentrated in different roles and in different sectors. We know, for example, in the health and social work sector in the EU women make up 80% of the workforce. Sectors where women are particularly concentrated, therefore, often become feminised with the work in those sectors becoming undervalued, valued less highly than comparable work in different sectors predominantly carried out by men and, again, we have multiple examples of this.

Women tend to bear a disproportionate burden of caring responsibilities in the home, in particular child care but also elder care responsibilities compared to male colleagues. This is often referred to as the phenomenon of the double day. Many of us are very familiar with that when we go home where we have caring responsibilities. That means that women are, therefore, less likely than men to work as long hours and that impacts not only on their earning capacity but on their promotional prospects in many workplaces. We see more women, therefore, concentrated in job-sharing arrangements or part-time employment. This has a knock-on effect. It means women are less likely to be promoted into senior management roles or to achieve promotions more generally in the workplace. Colleagues working in this area refer to this as the "sticky floor". There is not only a glass ceiling but women tend to be stuck on a sticky floor in many workplaces. Often we do not put ourselves forward for promotion because we may know it simply will not be compatible with other caring responsibilities. All these factors impact on differential pay rates for men and women when we average out pay across different sectors but the results are shocking. In the case of Ireland, a report done by Morgan McKinley in 2016 provides a detailed insight into how the gender pay gap impacts on the Irish labour market.

It was a study of 5,500 professionals, men and women, in Ireland. It found the gender pay gap increases along with the educational level attained by women. Women achieve better results than men at college but the pay gap opens and worsens as women and men progress through their careers. While there was a pay gap of 22% between men and women with no degree, the pay gap increased to an unbelievable 28% for men and women with a PhD. The average earnings of a man with a PhD are €74,000 per annum while for a woman with a PhD, it is €53,500. For those with an executive MBA, the figure was even more stark in that a pay gap of 33% opens up between men and women with equal qualifications. The pay gap widens also with years of experience from a 12% gap, when women and men start out on their careers, up to five years' experience, to a 28% pay gap for women and men who have more than 15 years' experience.

I have long had a passionate interest in women's equality in the workplace and some years ago I and some colleagues conducted an academic survey, funded by the Department of Justice, of women and men in the legal professions entitled, Gender inJustice, which found that while women outnumber men by a significant proportion in university law degrees, once they entered the workforce a gap opened up in terms of career prospects, income and promotion. We did a qualitative survey as well and when we asked why this was so the answer from men and women was that it is to do with children. The gap opens when women are most likely to have children, in their early to mid-30s, with men's career prospects accelerating and women's falling back. This is a real issue and there is a range of things to be done to tackle it. It has been highlighted and remarked on, not only by trade unions, equality advocates and the National Women's Council but also by major corporations, the World Economic Forum, which published a major report on the global gender gap in 2016, and by multinational corporations, such as Unilever, that women's underemployment and lower income levels have a seriously detrimental effect on world economic growth. There are very sound commercial reasons to address the gender pay gap too, and the Morgan McKinley report illustrates that.

There is a range of initiatives that need to be taken to deal with this ongoing inequality, in particular initiatives to strengthen supports for women returning to work after having children, and to support men taking time off work, such as paid parental leave. I am delighted that at last we have paid paternity leave in Ireland. It was a Labour Party initiative, whatever the Minister of State's colleagues may claim, but one which needs to be expanded on. I know he has not made any claims. Most men of my generation and younger wish to take on more caring responsibilities outside the home and we need to make sure the workplace supports are available for them to do so.

There are key ways to tackle gender pay inequality. Apart from the big picture of child care and parental leave, we need to examine the legislation introduced in other EU countries which has proved effective in tackling gender pay gaps. This, in particular, is what our Bill seeks to do. It takes a carrot, not a big stick approach, to empower the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, to administer a pay reporting mechanism. This would require companies or organisations with more than 50 employees to publish the difference in the rates they pay to men and women employees, in effect to conduct an audit of their pay scales to establish whether a gender pay gap exists. It is a carrot because it is enabling legislation. It would facilitate the publication of these figures and enable companies to address what they may not even be aware of, that there is, in fact, a gap in pay between the men and women they employ. We also seek in the legislation to require employers to publish details of bonus pay and the Morgan McKinley report found the bonus gap is as much as 50%. There are several different levels of pay disparity that need to be addressed. The key aspect of the Bill is to ensure transparency in pay rates, to ensure that we can highlight any gender pay gap that exists. It is not enough to hope organisations will volunteer this information but we have seen similar legislation prove effective in Belgium, one of the first countries to introduce it, where there is now a pay gap of just under 7%, half our gap. Iceland, Australia and Germany have introduced similar legislation and closer to us, Britain has recently implemented gender pay gap reporting with new regulations, as the Minister of State is probably aware, requiring companies with 250 or more staff to record annually how much they pay men and women. Our legislation, which is also based on a commitment in the current programme for Government, seeks to implement recommendations from the EU Commission, Morgan McKinley and a range of other international bodies, such as the World Economic Forum, to ensure we have greater transparency in pay rates and to enable companies, working with IHREC, to address pay disparity where it exists, to draw up action plans to tackle pay disparity and to begin to close the gender pay gap. The World Economic Forum has estimated it will take up to 170 years for the gap to close fully if we do not do anything. Inaction is no longer desirable. We need to ensure positive action is taken, as we did with gender quotas in the political sphere and we saw the impact that had on the numbers of women elected in the last election. This important and progressive legislation will also be most effective in tackling the ongoing pay inequality between women and men.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017, proposed by Senators Bacik, Humphreys, Ó Ríordáin and Nash. Senators will be pleased to hear that the Government will not oppose the Bill.

While the Bill is relatively short, it proposes to amend the legislation establishing the IHREC, by assigning to the IHREC powers to make mandatory information disclosure schemes. Under such schemes, specified categories of employers would be required to compile and publish information relating to differences in the pay of their male and female employees. Contravention by an employer of the provisions of a scheme would be an offence. Schemes would not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees.

I acknowledge the good intentions behind the Bill, the general thrust of which I support in terms of its objectives and the need to address the gender pay gap. As the Senators are aware, it echoes specific commitments in this regard in the current programme for Government which Senator Bacik has just acknowledged.

The principle of equal pay for women and men for equal work, or work of equal value, has been part of Irish law for almost 40 years and is part of everyone's contract of employment. The gender pay gap, the difference between the average gross earnings of female and male employees, is not as well understood. In 2014 the pay gap between women and men employed in Ireland was 13.9%, before any adjustments are made to take into account of factors such as differences in education, labour market experience, hours worked, type of job, etc. Among the many factors which interact in creating the pay gap, a number have an obvious gender dimension. I refer here to traditional role models, gender segregation in education and in the labour market, the challenges of balancing work and family life, the difference in participation of men and women in family responsibilities, the availability of quality, affordable child care facilities and out-of-school hours care, and processes within organisations where imbalance needs to be addressed. The Senator has already commented on most of those.

To put the situation in Ireland in a broader context, it should be noted that Ireland is one of the better performers in the EU. While the gender pay gap across the EU overall was 16.7% in 2014, the gender pay gap in Ireland at 13.9% was the lowest in the EU. I fully accept that this is not where we want to be and that we need to act on the gender pay gap. This objective is articulated both in A Programme for a Partnership Government and in the actions of the new national strategy for women and girls. I have left copies of that in the ante room if Senators want to take copies away. There are specific actions in it with respect to this issue.

I want to highlight, in particular, the importance the Government and I attach to taking action to promote wage transparency, as a means by which some of the factors contributing to the gender pay gap can be identified. This is expressed as a specific commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to introduce wage surveys for companies of 50 or more employees. Therefore, I am not opposed in principle to the Bill. However, I have concerns with the specific approach proposed.

Before going into detail on the provisions in the Bill, it is important to mention the national strategy for women and girls 2017-2020, which the Tánaiste and I launched on 3 May 2017, and which specifies a package of actions to deliver on this programme for Government commitment.

Action 1.22 of the strategy will initiate dialogue between key stakeholders, unions and employers, aimed at addressing the gender pay gap, and develop and promote practical information resources to explain and increase understanding of the multifaceted aspects of the gender pay gap and its causes.

Practical tools will be developed to assist employers in calculating the gender pay gap within their organisations and consider its aspects and causes, mindful of obligations regarding privacy and data protection. Furthermore, action 1.23 pledges to promote wage transparency by requiring companies with 50 or more employees to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results.

Beginning with the purpose of the Private Members' Bill, I note that the explanatory memorandum 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 to inform the formation of public policy. I assume this would require the compilation and analysis of responses from all employers within a scheme and for such analysis to be available to the Government for policy formation. The second use is by employers, providing them with a means of benchmarking 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 the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. 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 the commission to use its existing powers to invite employers to carry out equality reviews and prepare and implement action plans. It could also inform a decision by the commission to carry out such equality reviews and action plans on its own initiative or to initiate inquiries.

Turning to the Bill, section 1 provides for the insertion of a new section 32A into Part 3 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 which sets out enforcement and compliance procedures involving the IHREC. Subsection (1) provides for the making of a scheme by the commission. As set out in the subsection, the exercise of any authority or power to make a scheme would be at the sole discretion of the commission. There is no provision under which the Minister may require or request the commission to make a scheme. As such, there is no provision made whereby enactment of this legislation is guaranteed to result in the introduction of wage surveys, as promised in A Programme for a Partnership Government, or within the timescale envisaged in the new national strategy for women and girls. Also, the commission is fully independent and must be able to determine its own work priorities. The imposition of such an obligation raises the possibility that it may not be in a position or be the most appropriate body in this context to carry out such a task. As subsection (1) is phrased, approval of the Minister is not required for any such scheme. While the IHREC has undoubted expertise in this area, it may be appropriate that powers are subject to the control of the Minister, as is the case with section 31 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, whereby codes of practice can be prepared by the commission for submission to the Minister and the Minister may, by order, approve them. There is no similar mechanism in the Bill.

While subsection (3) provides an indicative list of matters that may be prescribed in a scheme and subsections (4) and (5) specify the minimum information that must be published by an employer under any scheme, terms and concepts are used which are ambiguous or not defined in this context. For example, bonus pay, pay quartiles, breakdowns by reference to employees' ages and breakdowns by part-time and full-time status are all terms to be defined.

The Bill proposes in subsection (6) to create a new offence of contravention of the provisions of a scheme by an employer. The imposition of a class A fine for this offence appears to be out of line with other offences under the IHREC Act 2014 which are liable for class C fines. With the level of information the Bill requires to be published, there is a danger that the pay of some individuals could be ascertained. For example, would it be possible for such information to be identified from the publication of the proportions of men and women in the different quartile pay bands? If only one or a few men or women were in a particular band, this could be possible and it obviously raises data protection concerns.

Subsection (5) requires the information specified in subsection (4), paragraphs (a) to (f), to be further disaggregated by reference to age and employees' part-time or full-time working status. This level of disaggregation increases the likelihood that an individual employee's pay would be identifiable, even in respect of employees of larger employers. The State's legitimate interest in increasing wage transparency in order to provide information on gender pay differentials within individual companies must be balanced against the rights of individual employees to privacy on pay. The one-size-fits-all approach set out in subsections (4) and (5) gives me cause for concern. The case for making this information publicly available in respect of all employers, irrespective of the size of their workforce, requires careful consideration and must be examined to ensure it is proportionate and necessary. A more nuanced approach may be needed. The Bill appears to draw selectively from recently introduced UK legislation, namely, the Equality Act 2010 and Regulation 2017, No. 172, which require employers with 250 or more employees to publish similar information on differences in the pay of male and of female employees, on which there was extensive public consultation, informed by regulatory impact analysis. The aspects of the UK model incorporated into this Bill are subsections (1) and (3) to (5), inclusive, which are similar to provisions of section 78 of the UK Equality Act 2010, while subsection (4) is similar to paragraph 2 of Regulation 2017, No. 172. It is notable that subsection (5) which requires the breakdown of information by reference to the full-time or part-time status of employees and their ages and which raises data protection issues is a level of detail not provided for under the UK law.

These are my comments on the provisions of the Bill. More fundamental than these views, however, is my concern that we should not enact legislation in this area without having full consultations first with interested stakeholders, in particular 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 directions, 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. Consultation will allow for an assessment of the full range of approaches to the design and implementation of wage surveys. I very much welcome the debate and I am listening carefully to what everyone is saying. The Government is open to and readily welcomes debate on the issues the Bill aims to address. The Government is committed to acting on the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, I will have to leave shortly, but the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, will be able to hear the rest of the debate. I will check what colleagues had to say later. I hope to engage further on the Bill.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, on the work she has done on this issue and her campaigning for many years to raise issues of gender inequality in many spheres. In fact, we had a discussion on this issue only last night in respect of broadcasting. As somebody whose own mother was forced to leave her employment when she got married in the late 1960s and as somebody who taught in an all-girls school, it is remarkable that we have moved a long way in such a period. Often, however, when talk turns to issues of gender equality, there can be a little disinterest and an assumption that everything is okay in this country. This is aside from issues associated with the health sphere, on which I know we will touch again, and the constitutional impediments affecting women's health. In the work sphere, however, it can be assumed that all is well, but that is certainly not the case.

When my party was most recently in government, we sought to address this matter in a number of ways. One of the issues we tackled, in respect of which Ms Kathleen Lynch was very forthright, was that of having gender equality requirements for State boards, with a minimum percentage of female participation. It was not a question of a general statistic but one across all types of board. It was not good enough to have 90% male representation on financial boards and 90% female participation on child care-type boards; there had to be a gender balance on all boards. In Germany the authorities have legislated for gender equality on commercial and state boards. Perhaps we might look for this in the future.

Just as Senator Ivana Bacik has done in this Bill, it is important to start with the carrot and work with employers and unions to ensure all jof these measures can be addressed properly. When we were in government, we were trying to ensure a legislative basis for the protection of workers' rights in the low-pay sector. Women are disproportionately affected in this and other vulnerable sectors. It is they who work in these areas. When we were defending the joint labour committee and the employment regulation order system and establishing the Low Pay Commission and increasing the minimum wage, we noted that a disproportionate number of women worked in the affected sectors. That is why the conversation we had, the measures implemented and the concept of having decency underpin the economy were so important. We need, however, to go further constantly and work harder.

We still have a very gender-based education system. Whenever I talk about gender inequality, I talk about this issue. It is one we really need to grasp. At primary and secondary levels in many parts of the country - it may be more of an urban than a rural phenomenon - we are still quite comfortable with gender-based schooling. We separate children on the basis of gender, even at the age of four years. I acknowledge that there probably has not been sanction for a single-gender school since the 1980s, but we still need to have a national conversation about this issue. While we are happy to talk about gender equality in adulthood, we are not necessarily as happy to discuss what is blatantly and glaringly obvious to many in many communities, namely, the separation of children on the basis of gender, particularly at primary level.

Now we have to have a national conversation about this. While we are happy to talk about gender equality in adulthood, we are not necessarily as happy to discuss what is blatantly obvious to many people in many communities, that is, why we are separating children, particularly at primary level. At second level that conversation can be more difficult. People point to supposedly reputable surveys about the performance level of boys versus girls at second level, research that has been largely discredited. One would wonder why we have such a gender obsession when it comes to the Irish education system, which inevitably leads to gender stereotyping and to a certain type of gender-related subject choices that has a knock-on effect on the workplace.

I understand the Minister has to leave but I thank him for his attention. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to the House. All these issues are interrelated and while we cannot grasp them all at once, we need a huge amount of buy-in across many Departments and sectors in order to really hammer this home. I have mentioned vulnerable work and the education sector. When we were in government, we organised a conference around the issue of gender equality in the workplace and even at that conference there were those male executives who were still scratching their heads and wondering what the big deal was. It was not something that they actually considered a real issue. It is, however, and if we are going to address it, as we are trying to do with this Bill, it is important to be as inclusive and as non-accusatory as possible in the early stages. We need to use a collaborative approach, encouraging rather than sanctioning. I suggest to the Minister that if there comes a stage where companies are not playing ball or not seen to be embracing this new initiative, he may have to use the stick.

The workplace is so important to somebody's identity and when I was a Minister of State we dealt with the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities and we tried to ensure that workplaces were LGBT-friendly. What eventually happened was that the corporate world discovered that the productivity of workers would be better if they had a more equality-based outlook when it came to dealing with their employees. Surprise, surprise, there actually is a cold, capitalist argument for equality. Senator Bacik and I would never have assumed that would be the case but we have learned many things along the way. When dealing with corporations, the business sector, business leaders and employers, there is a strong argument to be made about productivity and about happiness in the workplace in terms of addressing issues of gender pay gaps. That is what the Bill is attempting to do, bringing in an agency of the State to ensure that the gender pay gap is addressed. It has been attempted in other jurisdictions, as has been outlined, and it has been successful.

While we appreciate the Government is not opposing the Bill, we were slightly disappointed by the Minister's speech, which pointed out the number of difficulties the Government has with it. That is okay, however. We can work together to iron out these things and we can move forward together in a collaborative fashion. Gender equality is a real issue in every workplace and in every facet of Irish society and Senator Bacik and the Labour Party group are bringing forward practical, reasonable and sustainable measures that will make a difference in the long run.

I would like to welcome my friend and colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to the House. I would like to salute the Labour Party and Senator Bacik, in particular, for what I would describe as very progressive and necessary legislation. The Labour Party has a proud history in social justice issues, in particular in this area, and it is appropriate this is acknowledged. Information is power. The more information that is available, the better equipped we are as a country to do the right thing. I am very pleased the Government is not opposing this Bill on Second Stage. I sincerely hope that whatever the technical issues are, they can be resolved by the Minister and Senator Bacik in a collaborative way and that the legislation will be even more powerful as a result.

A Programme for a Partnership Government is very strong in this area. The objectives and aims of the Government and Senator Bacik are really the same; it is just a matter of how we achieve them and do this properly. This Bill will pass Second Stage this evening, so that will put a particular process in train that will ultimately bring us to where we want to go.

Much has happened I listened to Senator Ó Ríordáin talking about his mother having to give up her job when she got married in the 1970s. If one tells people about that today, they do not believe it. We have come a long way in four decades but we have an awfully long way to go.

There is the issue of equality but then there is real equality. The vast majority of people aspire to equality. Unfortunately the word "equality" is kicked around an awful lot and, in many ways, it is abused. What I want to see is real and meaningful equality. What the Labour Party and, indeed, the Government are trying to achieve is real equality. It is equality where nobody is working for a month out of every year for nothing and where people are effectively equal in all aspects of their work.

I was not in the House for the Order of Business this morning but I believe the Fine Gael leadership issue was brought up. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has suggested extending parental leave. There should be the option of dividing up maternity leave if somebody-----

Is that a pitch for the leadership of the House?

Senator Conway, without interruption.

If somebody wishes to do three months and the other partner in the relationship wishes to take three months, we as a society and as a Government should be able to facilitate that because it is correct that the vast majority of modern fathers want to play an active role in the raising of their children. This should not be a major difficulty. There maternity leave period is six months and there should be options there. This is a proposal that I heard made in the last couple of days and I welcome it.

We have moved into a far better space in this country when it comes to equality but we need to keep moving into the space, to embrace and believe it. The situation in schools needs to change and I concur with all the points Senator Ó Ríordáin articulated in that regard.

The private sector has much to do as well. Not enough is being done in this regard. If the private sector was to embrace this issue of absolute equality, it would be amazing how skilled and fulfilled a workforce there would be. As we head into what hopefully will be a period of growth in our economy, I want to see all citizens with a skill set having that skill set not just properly recognised but properly remunerated. Some 84% of blind and visually-impaired people between the ages of 18 and 64 in this country are unemployed, whereas the European average is approximately 40%. The whole issue of equality is a broad church and this legislation, when it gets over the line, will certainly help in terms of gathering factual statistics and ensuring that those statistics can then be used to change public policy, to change a mindset and to highlight the obvious inequalities that exist. I welcome the legislation and I am glad the Government is not opposing it.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. He seems to have spent most of the day here.

I thank and compliment Senator Bacik and our colleagues in the Labour Party for bringing forward this legislation. I am glad to report that Fianna Fáil will support the Bill, which requires certain employers to publish information on the pay of their employees for the purpose of showing that there is no difference in the pay of male and female employees and that if there is, they have to give a reason.

The fact that we are discussing this subject and that Senator Bacik felt the need to introduce the Bill highlights clearly that more needs to be done in this area. I hope that, whatever form the regulation comes in, it will not put too much of an additional burden on employers. As Members here would know, approximately 3,000 large and medium-sized enterprise employers employ about 700,000 people. It is important, therefore, that whatever regulation is introduced, and it is much needed, is done in as simplistic a fashion as possible.

It was interesting to learn, while doing research for this discussion, that our situation has deteriorated in recent years. I am not sure whether Senator Bacik can enlighten us as to the reason for that. In 2012, the gap was as low as 8.3% but, unfortunately, according to the OECD, the most recent indicator indicates that the gap is now approximately 16%. That is strange, and I would welcome Senator Bacik's comments on the reason that might be the case.

Under the Programme for a Partnership Government, the Government committed to a range of measures to reduce the gender pay gap such as increasing investment in child care and providing locally delivered courses to facilitate women who want to return to work. While those measures are welcome, it is clearly not enough. We can see from data available that there is a gender gap not just regarding pay but for women who try to get promoted to different areas. In boardrooms, for example, the percentage of women compared to their male counterparts is very disappointing. More work needs to be done in that regard. As Senator Bacik outlined, women with similar qualifications to men, even in the legal profession, do not seem to get the same remuneration for their work. That is strange because I am sure they are more than capable of doing as good a job, if not better, than their male counterparts.

I am delighted that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. I compliment the proposers of it because it is a sensible measure to try to come up with a solution to this problem. They are using a softly, softly approach, which I hope employers will embrace, and I congratulate Senator Bacik on that. I hope that when we review this legislation, whenever it comes up for review, we will see clearly that it is working. When it becomes law, I am sure the Bill will address the issue we all want to see addressed, that is, the pay gap between female and male employees.

The next speaker is Senator Mullen, who I understand is sharing time with Senator McDowell - six minutes and two minutes. I will indicate after five minutes.

That is very much appreciated. I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to speak to this Bill.

The perspective I am coming from is that I believe we should work increasingly for the introduction of family-friendly work practices in our society as well as flexible working arrangements such as flexi-start and finish, which enables women in particular to combine being a parent without sacrificing the level of their career, but also allows men to take on more of a co-parenting role. This Bill is something different, however, and I believe it goes the wrong way in many ways.

Senator Bacik and her colleagues want to determine if there are differences in the pay of male and female workers and the nature and scale of such differences, and create a power for the Human Rights and Equality Commission to compel employers to disclose information on the gender pay gap, if any, in its operations. It is presented as a diagnostic rather than a curative measure to enable information to be gathered, but the Human Rights and Equality Commission may command an equality review. It may prepare and implement an equality action plan, and it would be an offence not to implement the requirements of such a plan. It is a little more than information gathering. Why not ask the Central Statistics Office to carry out an exercise gathering payment information? This Bill is more of a fishing exercise designed to trawl up data for advocacy purposes and to advance a discredited analysis of earnings as opposed to pay differences between the sexes.

We have employment equality legislation, which rightly makes it illegal not to provide for equal pay for like work or to discriminate on the basis of gender. The problem is that there is no clear regulatory purpose to this Bill. Because we have the law that prohibits discrimination, there is no role here for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act and the creation of new offences In law for failure to comply what I said was a burdensome fishing exercise.

In a company there can be differences in earnings between men and women, young employees and older employees and employees with degrees and those with experience. If it can be explained by discrimination due to age, race, gender and so on, there is then a legal avenue. The unjust differences are already guarded against in law, and that is right and proper.

This Bill comes from the premise that gender is the reason for gaps in remuneration. It should be noted, however, that according to the World Economic Forum, Ireland was the fifth most equal country in the world out of 145 countries. Male and female educational attainment in third level was virtually identical, with the only difference being that women were scoring higher in completion rates. Again, it is about an agenda distorting the real reasons for an earnings gap to advance a false narrative.

When one factors in time in the workplace, experience, chosen career and length of service, the earnings gap closes to a very low level. The UK Office for National Statistics found in 2014 that men earn more in their teenage years, but that women are paid more between the ages of 22 and 29.

The origin for the proposals in this report seems to arise from a 2016 document published by Morgan McKinley. It suggests that the gender pay gap actually widens against women with years of experience from 12% through to 28% where they have more than 15 years experience, but then they contradict themselves later. Showing that where women have greater experience in a job they earn more than men, and that is right and proper. Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics criticised the flawed thinking behind calls for further equality legislation in the UK by showing that experience is what is crucial for remuneration. That is borne out by the UK office I quoted earlier.

It is interesting to note in this regard that even the feminist utopia of Sweden, despite all its family-friendly and equal opportunity policies, does not have a better record than Anglo-Saxon countries in terms of eliminating sex differences in the labour market.

It is necessary to reiterate that there are two distinct issues that must be discussed regarding the pay gap: the unadjusted versus the adjusted pay gap. An adjusted pay gap takes into account differences in hours worked, occupations chosen, education and job experience. This Bill does not attempt to undertake such a practical analysis, nor does it proceed from same.

I note with sadness that it is often the case that some feminists dismiss the idea that mothers choose to reduce hours or go part-time as structural inequality. If women make a decision they approve of they are empowered, but if they make a decision that is not liked, it is cultural expectations or structural inequality that is to blame. However, some of these people would hold personal choice as the highest goal. For example, the choice to end the life of an unborn child is not due to any structural "whatsits". Women involved should not be encouraged in any way socially or assisted formally and publicly to make a better choice or even the identification of a better choice. Everything is neutral on that issue, yet there is a clear agenda to promote certain goals on this issue. I do not understand the disparity in that thinking.

If anything, what the gender pay gap proves is that even after 40 years of relentless propaganda, in many cases women still prioritise caring responsibilities over career and pay. In that vein, the specific reference in Article 41.2.1o to the role of women in the home, and to mothers' duties in the home, has given rise to criticism. I would support making that provision gender neutral, but I do not support any attack on the value of parenting in our society.

We must not confuse equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. We should not restrict or interfere with people's family or personal decisions about work. If that leads to gaps in overall earnings, that are rooted in the exercise of choice, that is fine as long as people are treated fairly in the work that they do. Many women choose to interrupt their careers to care for children. We should not deprecate that choice. We should make it easier for them to return to work if necessary, but sadly, this burdensome Bill is not about that.

The group to which Senator Mullen and myself belong is not one bound by ideology or a viewpoint at all. I have to say that I profoundly disagree with what I have just heard. The Bill is timely.

The Senator is sharing time with him.

I am indeed and that shows what real liberalism is about. I strongly support Senator Bacik's Bill and the ideas that lie behind it. It seems to me that if we were talking about any other categorisation of citizens, such as colour, religion or whatever, there would not be any argument at all about such a provision. When it comes to gender, we are told that in that context, there are reasons why inequality is explicable. I fully accept that there are social and demographic reasons whereby some women will opt in or out of the workforce on a different basis compared to men. It strikes me that this legislation is well capable of taking those matters into account.

I want to express disappointment that the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, came in here and said, effectively, that this required consultation. This Government has been in office for a little over a year yet it has not started the consultation process. It is already in the latter half of its probable existence. When is all this going to happen? It is very easy to come into this House and say that one will not oppose a Bill, especially if one does not propose doing anything further about it. I believe that there is a very strong case for having factual information made available by large-scale employers in Ireland so that the onus is on them and a culture is created of requiring them to be equal in their pay policies towards women. The factors that Senator Mullen has referred to can easily be taken into account but do not justify the maintenance of an unequal payroll outcome in society.

I commend Senator Ivana Bacik and the other Labour Senators for their work in this area. There are numerous complex reasons, as other speakers have alluded to, as to why a gender pay gap exists, not only in Ireland but all over the world. One reason is that women are, in some cases, paid a lower hourly wage than men. Another is that a significant portion of women may not return to work full-time once they have children and it is a biological reality that women have to have the children until something changes drastically with the human race. The combination of women working fewer hours on average than men over their lifetime and the lower hourly wages for women results in lower pensions, which is a bigger issue in many senses because many women experience poverty in old age.

Ireland currently ranks 25th out of 33 in the women in work world league table. There is clearly room for serious improvement here. However, Ireland ranks above some of our European neighbours, which is some comfort, but to think that we rank ahead of Italy, Spain and Greece is a small comfort in many ways. Ireland has also seen positive change as the gender pay gap has decreased somewhat in the last 11 years. As I said, serious further improvement is required. Female unemployment has decreased by 3,900 to 58,000 over the years to the first quarter of 2017. That is line with a general reduction of those unemployed in the country.

Nevertheless, more must be done to narrow the gap and to do so at a quicker rate. Therefore, the Bill is not being opposed by the Government and I welcome this fact. I have a number of slight issues with it and I will not go into detail on them because the Minister of State has already outlined his side of the argument in that sense. The need for change, as a result of the programme for a partnership Government, includes a commitment to promote wage transparency by introducing wage surveys for companies of 50 or more employees. Furthermore, the national strategy for women and girls, 2017 to 2020, which was launched in May this year, includes actions on the gender pay gap. So some work is being done and planned. The strategy notes the need for dialogue between union and employer stakeholders to address the gender pay gap. I noted the previous speaker's comments on this but I do not see how dialogue could hurt. The strategy also mentions the need to develop and promote practical information resources to explain and increase understanding of the multifaceted aspects of the gender pay gap and its causes. It also states calls for the development of practical tools to assist employers to calculate the gender pay gap within their organisations and to consider its aspects and causes, mindful of obligations regarding privacy and data protection. Further, it states the need to promote wage transparency by requiring companies of 50 or more employees to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results. Therefore, there is some strategy in place at this stage in this regard.

It has been argued by the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union, IMPACT, that publishing information on the gender pay gap will incentivise employers to reduce the issue and to narrow the gap, as they will be in public competition with other businesses and organisations which pay their employees more equally. Furthermore, if such information is public knowledge, it will allow people to negotiate better pay in addition to allowing organisations and firms to engage with suppliers and businesses that practise equality with regard to gender pay. Therefore, the proposed Bill embodies meaningful change, such as publishing the figures of large companies, which I welcome. There are a number of small issues. The Bill is inconsistent with the method which is outlined in the national strategy for women and girls. I am sure that is something that could be worked through or ignored in the context of the Bill, perhaps. Consultation with employers and trade unions is needed, as I mentioned. The exercise of any authority or power to make a scheme would be at the sole discretion of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. There is no provision under which the Minister may request it to make a scheme. As such, there is no guarantee that the enactment of the legislation would result in the introduction of wage surveys, as envisaged under the programme for a partnership Government.

I am not going to go through the other points that the Minister of State has addressed but I support the Bill. There are a number of complex reasons why there is a gender pay gap and therefore the solution will also need to be complex. We must address a number of factors and solutions to narrow the gap, such as providing affordable child care. We need to lead by example in these Houses. If any of us of child-rearing age were to be pregnant in the morning, we would not have the proper support with regard to hours and basic maternity leave, which is hard to believe in this day and age. The Government has implemented legislation to achieve and develop equality in Ireland, such as the introduction of paternity leave. I welcome that one of the candidates in our leadership race-----

It is no harm to mention it. I just read it a few minutes ago. He proposes a situation where maternity and paternity leave could be shared and parental leave could be taken, moving more towards Scandinavian countries in this regard. That would be very welcome.

I thank Senator Bacik for her work in this area. There is clearly much work to be done in Ireland when it comes to the gender pay gap but one could not stand up as a woman and speak against closing this gap.

I want to begin by commending my colleagues in the Labour Party - Senator Bacik in particular - for drafting this Bill. Sinn Féin is very happy to support the Bill this evening.

I have to start with what is perhaps a negative on the commentary from the Minister of State. It is not so much on the detail, because in fairness, it is okay to express those concerns. The word that worried me is the same that worried my colleague, Senator Michael McDowell. It is this idea of consultation. There has been a trend in this Government to pass legislation to a certain stage and then park it.

I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure that the Bill moves swiftly through its various Stages. I do not think the women of Ireland will thank the Government for parking this Bill. For example, the consultation to which the Minister of State referred can easily be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Sinn Féin welcomes the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is clear that the pay gap is, sadly, still a very relevant issue. I note recent information from the World Economic Forum predicted it would take until 2186 to close the current pay gap. Britain introduced gender pay gap reporting in April, alongside other jurisdictions across the EU and the US. These obligations will come into force in the Six Counties next month. While we welcome these moves, it remains to be seen whether they will have the effect of closing the pay gap. We are optimistic that they will.

We have some suggestions for the Bill. We note there is provision for a class A fine for a company that does not comply with an eventual IHREC scheme. A class A fine of €5,000 will be a drop in the ocean for some companies. The Minister of State suggested reducing the fines. Sinn Féin would take the opposite view. Perhaps there is scope to increase them in some circumstances. Furthermore, we would like to see a more public element for companies that do not comply. The people who engage with these companies, namely, their customers and employees, should know this information.

I will not labour the point about why we need to close the gender pay gap. Almost all of us know that it is necessary to create a more equal society. We know more equality benefits the economy. It will benefit many families in terms of increasing the take-home pay of women, with some projections in Britain estimating women's earnings could increase by £85 million. It is one aspect of a suite of measures that need to be taken in order to cancel out the motherhood penalty, which includes improving shared parental leave, child care that is affordable for parents and those carrying out the work and flexible work practices becoming the norm.

However, the Bill, the practice of shared parental leave and so on are steps towards the idea of equality that will primarily benefit some sections of our society. In our view, they are less likely to assist those who are working in low-paid industries. We need a range of measures designed to counteract the real effects austerity and capitalism have on the working class, and on working class women in particular. We need to have a serious conversation about working class women and families who shoulder the burden of austerity, and how we want to assist them.

Pay equity is a laudable goal but we must be careful that we do not inadvertently valourise motherhood only when it is combined with waged work of a certain standard without addressing the marginalising impact of structural issues that obstruct the realisation of real equality. Throughout the economic crisis and the imposition of austerity, there was a reduction of €30 billion in public expenditure in a six-year period, along with increased privatisation of public services in the context of a low-tax regime. User charges, so-called activation schemes and reductions in health, education, housing and community services brought severe consequences for women who were already in difficult positions.

We welcome the Bill, while recognising the significant task of work ahead to improve the lot of those suffering the gendered impact of the last number of austerity budgets, where the individual incomes of women were reduced overall. We do not underestimate the importance of closing the gender pay gap but we need to address the Traveller, working class and migrant pay gaps and so on.

Furthermore, the Bill will not address the teacher pay gap that, unfortunately, the Labour Party introduced which fundamentally undermines the principle of equal pay for equal work when it comes to newly qualified teachers, the majority of whom are women. It will not address class polarisation and the fact the recession was disproportionately borne by the more vulnerable. We must work to place the struggle against sexual discrimination in an anti-capitalist framework and recognise that we cannot separate the demand for equality from a critique of the role of capital and patriarchal structures in the struggles that women make daily to survive.

In conclusion, we welcome and will support the Bill, while acknowledging the major social, economic and legal changes that are required to ensure true equality for all women. I wish to reiterate my appeal. We have so little legislation to deal with in the House. This is a worthy Bill. I ask the Minister of State to make sure that we do not park it. Let us move it forward and make progress for women in this country.

I join with others in commending Senator Bacik and welcoming the Bill. It is an important step forward and something that has been sought for a long time by groups such as trade unions, including SIPTU and IMPACT, the National Women's Council of Ireland, with which I have a record, the Union of Students in Ireland and many others.

The necessity of the Bill is clear. Despite the legislation we have had for a very long time, our gender pay gap is persistent. It is worth noting that the gender pay gap has widened in Ireland. It was 12.6% in 2008 and widened during the period of austerity. It is not simply the case that we are not making adequate progress and may need to wait for 170 years for equality. Rather, during austerity and recession women were at the front line and the gender pay gap widened to 14.4%. It is now 13.9%, but there is a clear direction to travel.

A Senator referred to phrases that are thrown around, such as "discredited figures" and so on. The gender pay gap is very clearly monitored across Europe. The fact that there are causes that lead to a result does not discredit the result. Such a comment is like saying that if we did maths in a fashion that stated that if one took away two and two one would no longer get four. Of course there are multidimensional causes and explanations behind the gender pay gap. That is the nature of how statistics work. We need to tease out the causes, take action and recognise that there is a societal responsibility.

In terms of the question of hours, the gender pay gap figures from Europe we are discussing, a gap which is 13.9 % in Ireland, refer to the median hourly rate. It does not take into account part-time work and other issues. In fact, if one adds to the fact that women are getting a lower hourly rate the fact that, in many cases, they are also working less hours one finds there is a wider gender pay gap. For example, the gender pay gap in terms of median monthly wages in 2014 was 22.8%. It is not the case that we have to consider part-time work and that will somehow make other facts disappear. If we consider the fact of part-time work, the gap gets wider.

We heard about the higher levels of income for those with higher levels of qualifications. It is also important to consider the lower end of the income scale. The figures for those on low incomes are extraordinarily stark. Figures from the Central Statistics Office for 2014 show that 82% of women in the accommodation and food service sector earned less than €400 per week, as opposed to 66% of men. Some 63% of women in retail earned less than €400 per week, as opposed to 40% of men. In the area of health, 34% of women earned less than €400 per week, as opposed to 21% of men. There is a gap in wages across every single sector and society.

It is laudable that the CSO is examining the matter on a sectoral basis, but moving towards a solution requires us to take the obvious next step, move past a sectoral approach and examine the detail of companies. That is how we will address these kinds of sectoral gaps. I am sure IHREC may choose to prioritise those sectors where the gap is widest. This is where companies need to start being accountable.

I recognise that the Government is allowing the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage, but I ask it to be enthusiastic about it. It is a tool which will allow us to identify where the gaps are. It is a very practical and nuanced tool. I do not believe it breaches privacy in any sense because it refers to the median across an organisation.

I welcome that the Bill addresses the question of bonus pay. We do not want wages being equalised, but then have a culture where bonuses are only going to a select few on a regular basis.

Concerns were expressed about section 1(4)(f) in terms of potential identifiability, which could be addressed very easily.

I do not think it is something that should delay the Bill from coming back to us very soon. There is no guarantee as to when it would come back. I see these as extraordinarily mild amendments. We do not need consultation. The gender pay gap has been with us for an extraordinarily long time. Whether we want to tackle the gender pay gap is not really a matter that is up for question. It is not clear what consultation of great depth is needed, except on the actual detailed provisions of the legislation, which we can deal with through amendments. With regard to consultation between employers and others, I do not see why the Government needs to go back to the drawing board. We know there is inequality, and the Government has put it in the programme for Government. If it is serious about delivering on it, it will need to follow through and take action.

Other issues have been addressed, such as our leave policies. If we introduce parental leave, which I believe we should, it should be in addition to maternity and paternity leave. There are questions of child care. There are also questions, which company information will tease out, on experiences of re-entry to the workplace, people's experiences of parking and whether people are given opportunities to progress after an absence of a year or two years from the workplace. There are also questions about flexible work as opposed to precarious work, and tackling precarious work which affects women most severely.

Of course the knock-on effect of the gender pay gap is the gender pension gap. In Ireland this has risen from 35% to 37%. We have heard about the marriage bar as a great crime of the past. The marriage bar is still with us today. Older women in Ireland experience it every single week in their reduced pension and the averaging system which, it has been acknowledged, specifically discriminates against them. This is an area where the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has not yet stepped up to take action. I hope he does so in the next budget because it is an area of deep inequality, which is awaiting action. We know the actions that need to be taken and the only justification we have been given is a reluctance in terms of cost. Reluctance in terms of cost should never stand in the way of equality.

I very much commend the Bill, which is very important. I would like to see it back in the House before the summer. We certainly need to see it early in the new session. We should see through. This is legislation is simple and effective and could deliver real results and send a real signal. I urge the Government, as others have, not to park it but to carry it forward. I suggest a further carrot, which could be considered. Companies which engage and comply could be considered more preferentially in terms of public procurement contracts. The State may wish to prefer to support those companies which have a positive equality record in the delivery of public contracts.

I commend my colleague, the leader of the Labour Party group, on the work she has done on the Bill. Senator McDowell mentioned that many Bills are coming forward but nothing is happening. This is constantly happening in the House. I have counted 141 Bills that have been passed Second Stage in the Seanad and the Dáil but have not progressed. To me this is unacceptable. If the Government does not agree with a Bill, for heaven's sake just oppose it on Second Stage and do not give false hope that legislation will be progressed. There is a possibility that one piece of legislation brought forward in Private Members' time will actually get through this session.

Senator Conway said the Labour Party is a party of social justice and we certainly have a proud record on this, from opposing the eighth amendment, to the right to remarry, to the X case legislation, to same-sex marriage and to the gender recognition Bill. All these are achievements of the Labour Party. We fought those battles when they were not popular or profitable, and the fact I am in this House is recognition of this.

There are surprising facts in this. I must hold up my hand in my ignorance. The fact we will face 170 years before we break the gender pay gap is not acceptable. What I have always said to my daughter, as she goes through education, is that through education she will achieve equality. In fact, the more females are educated, the more likely there will be a gender pay gap with their colleagues. This is what the data states. A man who does the same masters with the same results and makes the same contribution to the workforce as a woman will earn more than her. Unfortunately, this is true and it is what we have to address.

Senator Mullen will have to forgive me because during his contribution all I could see was the image of him putting forward that a woman's place is in the home beside the sink. That is how it came across. It should be as much of a choice for men and women as to whether they want to stay at home and raise their families. There should not be an ingrained inequality with regard to salary for the same work with the same qualifications.

Recently I submitted a series of freedom of information questions on bonuses in the semi-State sector. No bonuses are paid but there are performance-related increments. A woman working in the sector came back to me and said quite honestly that she never knew there were performance-related increments. How can people look for pay equality if they do not know that the worker next to them is paid more or that performance-related increments operate in the company? It hit me and, unfortunately, I say this against myself, that it is the old boys' club, or the men's club in the pub or on the golf course, giving a tip-off not to look for a bonus but to go for a performance-related increment. This can be isolating for female colleagues. This is why the key in the Bill is information. Through information comes power, which becomes a route to equality. We have to take every opportunity to challenge inequalities in society.

I thank the Minister of State for his attention during the debate. I ask him to go to his colleagues in Government and to speak to the Labour Party about a pathway forward, so we can move this legislation forward and in some way tear down the wall of inequality between men and women in the workplace.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to the House. I thank all my colleagues who spoke in support of the Bill. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for expressing his support in principle for the Bill and his decision not to oppose it on Second Stage. Along with Senators McDowell, Gavan, Humphreys and others, I am disappointed the Minister of State was somewhat critical of the Bill. Of course, I am very happy to work constructively with him and his officials on moving forward. I accept there may well be amendments that might be necessary to deal with some of the technical issues.

I note the concerns about data protection. Clearly, it is a huge priority and we must ensure data is anonymised and that no individual employees are identified. Transparency is a crucial issue. The Minister of State pointed out not only is the need to publish pay rates acknowledged in the programme for Government but it is also in the more recently published national strategy for women and girls. Action 1.23 is to promote wage transparency by requiring companies with 50 or more employees to complete a wage survey periodically and report the results. We have very much drawn from existing commitments. We have drawn an existing legislation, in the shape of the human rights and equality commission legislation of 2014. In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is regarded as the appropriate body for enforcement of gender pay gap legislation. I do not think there is anything contentious or controversial about this. Of course, I am very happy to work with the Minister of State and his officials on bringing forward the Bill.

I agree with consultation, but not prolonged consultation. I take Senator Gavsn's point on this. Contained consultation with stakeholders, of course, would be very welcome, but let us move the Bill forward. Senator Humphreys has pointed out just how many Bills have passed Second Stage and are languishing. I am delighted to say our Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 to introduce collective bargaining rights for freelance workers passed Committee Stage in the Dáil this week. I understand it is likely to pass Report Stage in the Dáil next week. It will be the first Private Members' Bill from either House to pass all Stages and it was commenced in the Seanad. We have a good track record but this vitally important Bill does need to be expedited.

There was widespread support for the Bill for which I thank all colleagues. Senator Mullen spoke against the Bill. His position was somewhat laughable. He seemed to regard the Bill as contentious and it is extraordinary to view it as an attack on parenting. I appreciate Senator McDowell's support for the Bill from within the same group. It is not contentious. This is a mechanism that has been adopted in other countries and has proven effective. I note that in the UK where a similar law has already been enacted, employment experts have said this could do more to reduce the earnings gulf between women and men than four decades of equal pay legislation. There is nothing contentious about the Bill.

I accept that this Bill is not the panacea and there are other measures. Senator Noone and others spoke of the need for other measures to be brought forward, as did Senator Gallagher. There is a package of measures required to address pay disparity between women and men. If we look elsewhere we can see some really creative and innovative examples. For example, equal pay days - the first of which was introduced in Belgium in 2005, highlight awareness about pay disparity. In Switzerland companies are awarded an equal pay logo where they perform well on pay rate measurement scales. In Sweden there are large campaigns run around the logo "Everyday it's time for pay all day". They worked out that after 3.50 p.m. everyday women were working for free. In the same way one month in every year women in Ireland are working for free because of the gender pay gap.

I thank all Senators for their support. I thank the colleagues who pointed out that this is a Bill in the proud history of the Labour Party in terms of social justice measures. Senator Humphreys outlined some of those measures. I see this as progressive legislation in the spirit of social justice and equality. It will create a meaningful change and would provide some effective way towards reducing the ongoing and persistent gender pay inequality which remains in Irish society, despite more than four decades of equal pay legislation.

I commend the Bill to the House and thank all Senators for their support. I ask the Minister to convey to Deputy Stanton our desire to move this forward. We will bring it back and work with him and his officials on it to improve it and, if necessary, to engage in consultation. We are anxious to see it become law.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 30 May 2017.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.23 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 May 2017.