UK Politics

MPs back gender pay disclosure obligation for big firms

Sarah Champion MP
Image caption Ms Champion said MPs must 'listen to women's voices up and down the country' and support pay transparency

MPs have backed a bid to force large companies to publish details of any pay gap between male and female staff.

MP Sarah Champion's bill to require greater pay transparency cleared its first hurdle by 258 votes to eight.

The Labour MP for Rotherham said equal pay was "still no more than a promise", and claimed women earned £200,000 less than men over a lifetime.

The vote was largely symbolic as the bill would need government backing to stand a chance of becoming law.

It was instigated by opposition MPs who wanted to put on record their support for the bill, even though no-one spoke against it.

Analysis of the division showed that seven male Conservative MPs opposed the bill, while another Tory formally abstained by voting in both lobbies.

'Ashamed'

The vote coincided with a rally in Westminster to draw attention to the gender pay gap, which was attended by politicians and veterans of the 1968 protest over equal pay at the Ford plant in Dagenham.

Former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton who plays the lead role in the West End musical adaptation of the strike - Made in Dagenham - was also at the event with other cast members.

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Image caption Ms Champion said her bill was an opportunity to honour the women of Ford Dagenham 46 years ago

In the Commons, Ms Champion said: "I'm ashamed to say that 46 years from that historic strike and 44 years since the [Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay] Act was passed equal pay is still no more than a promise."

She said women in Britain earn on average "just 81p" for every £1 earned by a man. "Over a lifetime that means women miss out on a staggering £200,000 - enough to buy a house outright."

Female workers in their 20s are paid an average of £1,570 less a year than their male peers, MPs were also told.

Explaining the purpose behind her bill, the MP said: "All I'm asking for is equal pay for equal work. Whether it is on the shop floor or the trading floor this principle is as relevant now as it was back then when the women in Dagenham marched."

It would bring into effect measures in the 2010 Equality Act which were not implemented by the coalition government, to make companies with more than 250 staff publish the difference between male and female pay.

'Absolutely committed'

The average full-time gender pay gap is now at its lowest since comparative records began, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The difference narrowed by 0.6%, to 9.4% in April 2014 compared with 17.4% recorded in 1997.

The gender pay gap for all employees, full-time and part-time, was also the lowest on record at 19.1%, down from 19.8% in 2013.

While welcoming the fall, Ms Champion said progress was still "too slow" and criticised the government for not doing enough to tackle the problem.

She said her bill was not about naming and shaming companies but placing a responsibility on employers to obey the law on equal pay and take steps to reduce the gender pay gap.

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Media captionGemma Arterton and Isla Blair back equal pay calls

And she rejected the notion that it would place a new administration burden on employers.

"Equal pay is an issue for all of us," she told the Commons, and insisted: "We still have time before the election to make pay transparency a reality."

The government says it is "absolutely committed" to reducing the gender pay gap, and recently pledged £2m to help tackle disparities in pay between women and men.

Women and Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, a Conservative, said that although the gap was "narrowing" there was no room for complacency.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto will commit the party to forcing large companies to publish the average pay of their male and female staff - or face fines.

Lib Dem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson said fair pay was a "fundamental part of building a fairer society".

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