The government has warned UK employers that failure to meet the 2019 deadline for gender pay gap reporting because they are busy with Brexit-preparations is non-excusable.
Minister for Women Victoria Atkins MP confirmed to HuffPost UK that around 100 public sector employers still haven’t filed their gender pay reports, despite the deadline having passed on 29 March.
They are currently being chased by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for answers. The deadline for the private sector is Thursday 4 April.
In the meeting on Tuesday Atkins also dismissed claims that Brexit was helping to stall progress to close the gender pay gap, saying it was not based on any evidence she was aware of.
Atkins said: “Brexit is taking up a lot of people’s time at the moment but I’d be surprised if the larger businesses were being distracted by what was going on politically. It’s their role to abide by legislation. Our message to employers is that Brexit is not an excuse for not complying with the law.”
Gender pay reporting was introduced in 2018 requiring companies with over 250 employees to publish the difference between male and female earnings in their organisations.
The gender pay gap is different to unequal pay, where men and women are paid differently for the same job – something which has been illegal since 1970 and the introduction of the Equal Pay Act.
Initial analysis of the public sector reports filed last week found the sector had failed to narrow the gender pay gap, which has increased slightly from a 14% gap to a 14.1% gap in the past year. though it is still below the national average of 17.9% across both the public and private sectors.
Atkins said that she was keen for the public sector to do better and lead on narrowing the gap, becoming a model for the private sector to follow suit.
“If businesses are doing well I want to sing their praises and I want to create an environment where if you’re not doing your best. If you’re not asking for help or trying to make changes, I want that to be a competitive disadvantage for you.”
Asked if she was concerned employers were trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, by using tactics like reporting under different company names to the previous year, Atkins said she didn’t think employers were trying to “game” the system.
However, she did warn there were particular industries, such as construction, that the government was more concerned about. “For some businesses this is a whole new world for them,” Atkins said.
“We are not trying to fix the women here but fixing the environments..."”
The scheme in its current format will run for three years before it is reviewed and changes made, said Elysia McCaffrey – deputy director of the Government Equalities Office, which is responsible for ensuring companies report on time.
She said: “We plan to collect three years worth of data to build our understanding of how people are reporting before we make any changes to the system. We will then evolve the system to make sure it supports us in continuing to driving the change that we want to see.”
McCaffrey said she had been heartened by at least five big companies, including the Zurich Insurance Group, reportedly choosing to turn over all of their gender pay gap data to the Government Equalities Office in a bid for assistance in addressing internal issues.
“We are not trying to fix the women here but fixing the environments [they work in]. If you’re trying to de-bias people, it just doesn’t happen but if you put systems in place such as clear salary bands on job adverts, asking the same questions in all interviews, and transparency in pay, that helps.”
About 50% of employers have also voluntarily published their action plans for fixing the issues, something which is currently not a legal requirement. Atkins said she wouldn’t rule out adding it to the law in future though.