By Emma Batha
LONDON, Oct 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain should make companies draw up plans for closing their gender pay gaps, women's rights experts said on Wednesday amid warnings that COVID-19 threatens to worsen inequality.
They also urged Britain to set a global example by requiring businesses to report their pay gap according to ethnicity — an idea parliament will consider later this month.
Britain made it mandatory in 2017 for all companies with more than 250 employees to report the difference in earnings of male and female staff.
The gap fell last year, with men earning 17.3% more than women on average, down from 17.9% in 2018, according to official data.
But a comparison of laws in 10 countries, supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation's legal pro bono network TrustLaw, showed Britain trailed behind many other jurisdictions in terms of the details required on pay gap data and action plans.
In Australia, employers must give the gender balance of their workforce and governing body, break down data by managerial status and report on promotions and resignations.
The study comes ahead of a private member's bill to be presented in Britain's parliament on Oct. 20 requiring companies to draw up and publish plans for addressing pay gaps related to gender and ethnicity.
The report, co-authored by the Fawcett Society and the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at King's College London, recommended Britain lower the 250 headcount threshold.
In Sweden, the threshold is just 10 workers, while the median was 50 for all 10 countries studied, which also included Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, and Spain.
With COVID-19 likely to widen inequalities as women bear the brunt of domestic and caregiving duties, the authors said it was even more crucial to properly monitor pay disparities.
"Some might say this isn't the time to be looking at this, but if we don't have the data and we don't require action, there's a real chance things will slip," said Fawcett Society policy manager Andrew Bazeley.
"We've already seen hints of a return to the 1950s in terms of the division of labour within households as a result of school lockdowns," he said, calling for employers to produce an action plan at least every two years.
Women Working for Free
Spain passed a decree this week tightening pay gap reporting rules, with fines of up to €187,000 ($220,000) for companies failing to disclose the gender breakdown of staff wages.
Employers must also file plans on how they will balance the workforce, looking at issues including hiring processes and preventing sexual harassment.
Britain has suspended gender pay gap reporting this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.
But it leads the way on transparency and compliance, with 100% of companies reporting pay gap data last year, all of it public, according to the analysis led by law firm Latham & Watkins.
Gillian Unsworth, Britain's head of gender pay gap reporting, said the government was making it a priority to address inequalities exposed by the pandemic.
Speaking at a webinar to launch the report, she said sending women on leadership courses did not solve pay gap problems. Instead companies needed to fix outdated "old boys' network" systems.
Shavannah Taj, general secretary of the Wales Trade Union Congress, said Britain's pay gap was "closing at a snail's pace," leaving the average woman effectively working for free for two months a year.
She said COVID was intensifying inequalities as the pandemic hammered big employers of women, including the hospitality and retail sectors.
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)