On Thursday night Dawn Butler announced a set of policies to set a step change in women’s rights at work.
Equal Pay Day falls this year on 14th November. This is the day that women’s and men’s salaries stop matching each other like for like and women go on to work for the rest of the year for free.
Over the course of most working women’s lifetimes, they will earn less because of the gender pay gap and the continuing higher likelihood of taking breaks for children which impacts career progression and pension eligibility.
1950s-born women have had the goalposts moved for them resulting in many ending up with very little money to live on, unable to find new work and with diminished mental health from the stress of such a change to their life plans. I have spoken to some of the 4400 of these WASPI women in South Swindon and Labour is committed to support the women affected, including by extending Pension Credit to hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable women. We will consult further with the 1950s women affected as to what future support we can put in place once in government to help ensure that all these women have security and dignity in older age.
Women at work are not well protected from discrimination and harassment as union rights for equalities reps are not formalised, and taking an employer to tribunal has become harder under the Tories.
Labour’s plans are to put this all straight as well as bringing in even better rights and protections for new mothers, and all parents, and menopausal women. As a mum with 3 young children, who took maternity leave with all 3, I am really pleased to see maternity rights extended to allow new parents to make the arrangements that suit them best in their child’s first year.
- Create a new Workers’ Protection Agency working in partnership with HMRC with powers to fine organisations that fail to report their gender pay, publish action plans to reduce pay gaps or take satisfactory measures to close the pay gap;
- Increase Statutory Maternity Pay from 9 to 12 months, allowing all working mothers or parents to spend a full year with their new born babies before going back to work;
- Give all workers the right to choose working hours that suit them from day one of the job;
- Require large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy to break the stigma associated with the menopause;
- Tackle sexual harassment in the workplace;
- Enshrine the role of equalities reps in law so they have time and support to protect workers from discrimination.
Tackling the Gender Pay Gap
- The most recent statistics from the ONS’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) – published today – show that the mean gender pay gap for full time workers is 13.1%.
- This data shows that this year’s Equal Pay Day, the day in the year when women effectively start to work for free, falls on 14th
- Companies with good practises receive government certification and fine those that fail publish their pay gaps or take action to close them. We will empower our Workers Protection Agency to enforce compliance.
- With proper enforcement mechanisms there will be no place for large employers to hide gender inequality in their organisations.
- Labour will progressively amend Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations, so that by 2020 the threshold is lowered to workplaces with over 50 employees.
Increasing Statutory Maternity Pay
- Currently, pregnant women are entitled to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave but Statutory Maternity Pay only lasts for 39 weeks. Women who want to take a full year of maternity leave will not be guaranteed an income for the last three months.
- Statutory Maternity Pay entitles working mothers to 90% of their normal gross weekly pay for the first six weeks of their maternity leave, and then £148.68 or 90% of your pay if that is less than £148.68 for the remainder of the time. Employers can claim this back from government.
- Maternity leave and pay may be shared with a second parent.
- Labour will extend Statutory Maternity Pay to 52 weeks, allowing new mothers to spend a full year with their new born babies before going back to work – or increasing the time available for shared parental leave.
o Flexible working policies that cater for women experiencing the menopause
o Sickness absence procedures that they are flexible enough to cater for menopause related sickness absence
o Risk assessments to consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse.
Introducing Menopause Workplace Policies
Research has shown that many women feel ill-equipped to manage the symptoms of menopause at work. Three out of five working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work, affects their confidence and makes them feel unable to disclose their symptoms when taking sick leave.
Many women even consider working part-time or leaving work altogether because of a lack of working practices they need to deal with their symptoms. A report by ITV, in conjunction with Wellbeing of Women, found that a quarter of those surveyed had considered leaving their jobs because of the menopause.https://www.itv.com/news/2016-11-23/quarter-of-women-going-through-menopause-considered-leaving-work/
Under Labour’s plans, large employers with over 250 employees will be required to:
- Provide training for line managers to be aware of how the menopause can affect working women and understand what adjustments may be necessary to support them;
- Provide flexible working policies that cater for women experiencing the menopause;
- Ensure absence procedures are flexible to accommodate menopause as a long-term fluctuating health condition;
- Carry out risk assessments to consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that their working environment will not make their symptoms worse.
Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace
- Reinstate third party harassment provisions in the Equality Act, making employers liable for harassment experienced by staff by ‘third parties’ such as clients, customers etc and amend to remove the requirement for the employer to know that an employee has been subject to two incidents before being liable.
- Require employers to publish their sexual harassment policy and the steps being taken to implement it on their external website
- Legislate to make void any contractual clauses which stop disclosure of future discrimination, harassment or victimisation.
- Lengthen the timeframe within which employment tribunals can be taken from three months to six months.
- The next Labour government will give all workers the right to choose working hours that suit them by creating a presumption in favour of flexible working.
- All employers would be required to create roles with the presumption that it can be done flexibly, except where the employer is able to prove that a job is not suitable for flexible working, in line with conditions set out in new statutory guidance.
- In such cases, the onus will be on the employer to show that a job is not suitable for flexible working, rather than on the worker to show that it is.
Enshrine the role of equalities reps in law
- Union equality reps are elected by workers to ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion become a reality within workplaces.
- There are 6.5 million trade union members and around 200,000 carry out representative duties at a workplace level. They carry out a wide range of often complex and demanding activities including; providing informal advice to their colleagues; formally representing members in grievance and disciplinary hearings; negotiating with managers. Many also carry out specialist roles in improving health and safety at work, increasing access to learning and skills, improving equality and diversity in the workplace and making workplaces more environmentally friendly.
- The ACAS Code of Practice on Time off for trade union duties and activitiessays “Trade union representatives have had a statutory right to reasonable paid time off from employment to carry out trade union duties and to undertake trade union training since the Employment Protection Act 1975… Union duties must relate to matters covered by collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions and relate to the union representative’s own employer, unless agreed otherwise in circumstances of multi-employer bargaining…”. These statutory rights cover shop stewards, health and safety reps and union learning reps.
- However, trade union equality reps – whose role is to promote equality in the workplace – currently have no legal rights to time off, training or facilities.
- Many good employers do negotiate agreements to give trade union equality representatives reasonable time off in order to perform their role.
- A Labour government would extend the statutory rights to reasonable paid time off, facilities and training to perform their role that currently exist for trade union representatives to include trade union equality representatives. Doing so would promote and achieve greater equality in the workplace.