Remarks by Brendan Howlin on Labour’s Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017

28 November 2018

I want to thank parties on all sides of this house for assisting Labour’s Bill to pass through all stages in the Seanad: the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017.

I hope that we can see this Bill pass through the Dáil speedily as well.

The Government has spoken about their support for the core objective of our legislation, and we are open to amendments that would improve upon what we have brought forward to this stage.


Every country has a gender pay gap.

And in every case, women are paid less than men.

That is just a statement of current fact.

It doesn’t mean that it is inevitable or acceptable.

Equal pay for equal work is a basic principle of equality and human rights.


Ireland has made progress on this issue.

We had a massive pay gap, which is shown in statistics from the 1940s through to the 1970s, but this has gradually declined since.

For example, it is no surprise perhaps that when the marriage bar in the civil and public service was removed in 1973, women’s average earnings increased.

Today, the latest Eurostat figures measure Ireland’s gender pay gap at 13.9%, whereas the OECD have it at 10.6%.


There are different ways of measuring the gender pay gap.

We have to be careful to be accurate about which measuring stick we are using, and what the basis is for that measure.

Eurostat measure the difference between average gross hourly earnings of male and female employees as a percentage of male gross earnings.

The OECD are measuring the difference between the median average earnings of men and women relative to median earnings of men.


Based on these sources, if men are being paid €100 on average, women are being paid €86-89.

That adds up to a very significant difference, with implications for pension income in retirement as well as income throughout a person’s working life.


I don’t intend to discuss the ins and outs of the statistics today.

I want to focus on the substantive issue.

What is clear is that there is still a gender pay gap in Ireland.

On average, women are paid significantly less than men.

It is positive that Ireland is doing better than the EU and OECD averages.

But there are a number of countries doing much better than we are, including Belgium, Italy and Romania.


We see from the statistics that gender pay equality is greater among younger employees.

Gender pay equality is also higher in the public sector than the private sector.

The worst gender pay inequality is in financial and insurance industries.


There are a number of explanations for the gender pay gap.

Women and men play different roles throughout their lives in relation to rearing a family.

Taking time out for parenting reduces women’s earnings more often than men’s.

There is a difference between men and women in terms of the different professions they enter into.

We have more women in health care and teaching, and fewer women in engineering or finance.


There are unanswered questions too.

We don’t know enough about gender pay differences in the economy.

We don’t know – but we might suspect – that bonus payments to men, not least in financial services, are greater than those received by women.


We want to know the truth.

This is the heart of our proposed legislation.


We want to achieve two things.

We want to improve information about gender pay inequality, so that we can better understand the reasons for it.

That will permit us, where necessary, to take remedial action to eliminate gender inequality.


Secondly, we want to increase transparency about gender pay inequality across the economy.

That will raise public awareness of the issue and create pressure in society for enterprises to improve their performance.


Unequal pay for women is clearly an issue of equality and basic human rights.

This is why we have envisaged a central role for the Human Rights and Equality Commission.

We propose that the Human Rights and Equality Commission will draw up a scheme for employers to publish their rates of pay by gender.

This will only apply to medium and large employers, those with 50 or more workers.


So there is no requirement being placed on the vast majority of small enterprises and employers.

Although we would welcome and encourage their voluntary compliance with best practice in reporting this information.


In the Bill, we have specified the types of employer and employee affected by the proposed scheme, alongside some minimum requirements on the type of information to be published.

This will include the difference between the average hourly rate of pay of male employees and that of female employees, using both the arithmetic average and the median, or middle value, average.

Publication will also have to include bonus pay and make reference to part-time versus full-time workers.


In terms of enforcement, we envisage fines for companies that do not meet their obligations under the legislation.

Additionally, employers with over 100 workers who do not meet their obligations would have the name of their company published by the Human Rights and Equality Commission if they do not comply.


It is not a complex piece of legislation.

And it is not an onerous demand to place on employers.


There is a lot of evidence now that our graduates are keenly aware of equality issues and diversity.

Many enterprises will put their equality and diversity policies front and centre in order to attract the best employees.

That is the positive, progressive direction that our society is moving in.

And our legislation is designed to nudge those employers who are laggards in this respect to get their house in order.


Our society now offers our children and young people great opportunities.

Women and men are entering into professions that didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

Women are excelling in science, engineering and technology in our universities and in industry.

Women are active in every sector of the economy, although not in equal numbers to men in some sectors.


But gender inequalities persist.


Our legislation comes down to a basic question.

For any parent, if you had a son or a daughter, would you want them to have access to any job as any other man or woman?

Would you want them to have the same rates of pay and bonuses as any other man or woman doing work of the same value?

And would you want them to have the same career expectations, in terms of advancement and promotion?


Across Ireland, Labour has no doubt that the answer to these questions is a resounding Yes.

That is why it is important that our Bill is passed into law, at the soonest opportunity, to advance this basic principle of equality and human rights.

I ask all colleagues to support this Bill.


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