UK companies approach deadline to register gender pay gap

Advocates have expressed hope the data will help companies address inequality, but critics call it ‘worse than useless’.

Equal pay gender pay gap
Ryanair was among the big names with high gaps, registering a median hourly rate for women 71.8 percent lower than men's [Jessica Hill/The Associated Press]

Private companies in the UK have hours left to report their gender pay gaps as part of a new regulation aimed at showing women exactly how much more their male colleagues are getting paid. 

The Wednesday midnight (GMT) deadline for private sector companies marks the first time UK businesses that employ more than 250 people are required to disclose the difference between what they pay men and women. The deadline for public sector firms already passed last Friday. 

Gender equality advocates hope the measure will enable employees to talk to their firms about pay inequality and spur employers on to examine why a gender gap may exist within their firm. 

The UK is one of the first countries in the world to require companies to submit the data. 

On Tuesday morning, 8,874 of the more than 9,000 employers affected by the regulation had filed their figures to the UK gender pay gap service, which allows employees to check their company’s record.

“Shining a light on where women are being held back means employers can begin to take action,” a UK Home Office spokesperson said. 

Employers that do not disclose their figures risk legal action from the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

“Reporting gender pay gap data is not optional, it is the law,” the spokesperson said. 

Conversation starter

Kate Andrews, news editor at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK-based free market think-tank, strongly opposes the reporting measures, calling them “worse than useless”. 

The problem we face now is an ongoing effort to conflate equal pay with the gender pay gap. The former is rightly protected by law, the latter is a variety of calculations that are more or less meaningful depending on the extent to which they compare like-for-like circumstances.”

But Andrew Bazely, policy and insight manager at the Fawcett Society, a UK-based women’s rights campaigning group, believes the statistic has value. 

“[Gender pay gap figures] go beyond just the issue of equal pay and look at whether you’re promoting women as much as you are men, whether you are giving them bonuses to the same degree as you’re giving men bonuses, whether for example you have lots of underpaid women at the bottom of your organisation,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Equal pay, the idea that people who do the same job should be paid the same amount, has been legally enforced in the UK since 1970. 

But with men often occupying more senior positions than women, a gender pay gap, the difference between average hourly earnings of men and women, persists. 

Women earn less than men in all OECD countries. According to the organisation’s numbers, a gender pay gap of 16.8 percent existed in the UK in 2016. In South Korea, women earned 36.7 percent less than men in the same year. 

Of the companies that had already published their data by Tuesday afternoon, 78 percent pay men more than women, the BBC reported. 

Ryanair was among the big names with high gaps, registering a median hourly rate for women 71.8 percent lower than men’s. Barclays bank reported a women’s median bonus pay of 46.9 percent lower than men’s.

“The most important thing to come out of this is the conversation that this will provoke,” Bazely said.

“[For employees to] come together to challenge their senior management to produce an action plan that will change the gender pay gap.” 

No official measures for companies that register a high pay gap have been announced. 

“Having a pay gap is not unlawful,” an EHCR spokesperson said. “Action plans to tackle the reasons behind them are key.” 

Niki Kandirikirira, director of programmes at Equality Now, hopes that companies with large pay gaps will take it on themselves to analyse what is causing the discrepancy and what they can do to adjust it.

She points to deeper cultural issues, such as underrepresentation of women in industries that are better paid, and a higher valuation of full-time workers, as some of the factors that companies should look into. 

“For child care we pay £8 ($11) an hour, say, to a woman who’s looking after children. This is the most precious thing we have in our life and yet we will pay a plumber, £35 ($49) an hour to mend the boiler.

“We undervalue the roles that women do deliver on … so that puts them on the back foot in the first place.

“With this [gender pay gap registration] you’re saying here’s an indicator, you need to take some action, you need to do the analysis, you need to understand this, and you need to start putting this right.”

Source: Al Jazeera