Thursday, 30 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
14. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the average industrial wage for men and women on the latest date for which figures are available; his views on whether the gap is widening; the immediate measures, if any, he intends to take to reverse the trend; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
21. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the recent ESRI study showing that Irish women earn 20 per cent less than men and particularly the views of the authors that equal pay legislation on its own was unlikely to bridge the gap and that what was needed was a shift towards providing child care services to encourage more women to work; his response to the report; the action, if any, he intends to take based on the report's findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
120. Ms F. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the steps, if any, he intends to take in order to alleviate the inequalities in pay for men and women as documented in the recent ESRI report, Male-Female Wage Differentials; Analysis and Policy Issues, Paper No. 163; if he intends to raise this issue with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The ESRI report on male-female wage differentials shows that when all male and female employees are included in the analysis, women's hourly earnings are approximately 80 per cent of men's. It is notable that when all sectors are examined, the female hourly wage is somewhat closer to the male rate than that commonly quoted for workers in manufacturing industry.
The most recent statistics for earnings and hours of work of industrial workers — adult rates — for March 1993 indicate that the average hourly rate for women in manufacturing industry was £4.84 — 71 per cent of the average hourly rate for men of £6.81. Average weekly rates for women were £180.10 — 64 per cent of the weekly rate for men of £281.35. These figures represent an albeit modest improvement in recent years, with average hourly rates having increased from almost 68 per cent and average weekly rates from 60 per cent since 1987.
To close these earnings gaps further a number of strategies will require to be adopted including amending employment equality legislation, the promotion of equal opportunities and an ongoing effort by employers and trade unions to review their treatment of this matter.
Amendment of employment equality legislation during 1994 will seek to improve existing equal pay and equal treatment provisions as well as to extend cover to non-gender categories. The social partners have undertaken in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work to implement equal pay for work of equal value and equality rights entitlements. They have also agreed, on my initiative, to consider EU developments on equal pay and support voluntary initiatives at enterprise level.
The importance of equal opportunities measures in reducing wage differentials is also increasingly recognised. The Programme for a Partnership Government 1993-1997 and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work reflect the contribution which equal opportunities can make generally and specify actions to which the Government and social partners are committed, encompassing positive action measures and measures to reconcile family and work responsibilities.
In this way it will be possible to secure a sustained rise in women's participation in the labour market over their life cycle, thereby reducing productivity related differences with men as regards factors, such as experience, which the ESRI study idenified as explaining almost half of the 20 per cent wage gap.
I am currently consulting with my colleagues in Government on the response to recommendations for the provision of  childcare facilities. The views expressed in the ESRI report are consistent with the thrust of the Report of the Working Group on Childcare Facilities for Working Parents. The in-depth consideration of the measures proposed by the working group which is currently underway should help address the issue highlighted by the ESRI report.
Proinsias De Rossa: In addressing the ESRI report, will the Minister acknowledge that part of the problem for women is that they more often than men have to leave the workforce to care for pre-school children, the elderly and people with a handicap? Has he any strategy to overcome the effect of this interruption? Is he aware that in the region of 70 per cent of women in the workforce are aged under 35 while something like 52 per cent of men are aged under 45 and because younger people's wages are usually lower, this also has an impact? In the light of that will he recommend the introduction of a minimum wage which would go some way to alleviating that problem?
Mr. Taylor: The introduction of a minimum wage is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, to whom the Deputy might table a question. I agree with the Deputy's comments on the findings of the ESRI report. As he rightly indicated, when women who have interrupted their work cycle to care for their families return to the labour force their wages are not comparable with that of men. Two issues are highlighted by the ESRI report as explaining the gap of 20 per cent. They attribute half of it to this experience differential and the remaining half to current or past discriminatory practices. I intend to address current or past discriminatory practices in the employment equality legislation. The best way to address the work experience of women is by providing child care policies. This is  being addressed in a number of ways; first by the pilot projects initiated by my Department and the new expenditure of £1 million on this programme to serve disadvantaged areas. Child care arrangements are also written into the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and into European Union national plan programmes. The other recommendations of the review group are also being considered by my Department in consultation with relevant Government Departments. Nonetheless, the overall picture is disappointing. The improvements we hope to effect in child care facilities coupled with the anti-discriminatory legislative provisions to deal with some of the shortfalls and defects in the legislation in operation since the 1970s, should narrow the wage gap very considerably. I am sure Deputy De Rossa will have noted from his study of the report that it is a phenomenon not confined to Ireland. Indeed, even in Scandinavian countries, where one would have thought there would be a much narrower gap, it is still surprisingly wide. We are grateful to the ERSI for having produced it as the basis for work in the years ahead.
Proinsias De Rossa: Does the Minister agree that we should avoid complacency on the basis of there being only a 20 per cent gap within which there are serious discrepancies? In the services industry there is a gap of £2 per hour between the wages of men and women.
Mr. Taylor: I agree with the Deputy and I assure him there is no room for complacency on this issue. The Government is introducing the employment equality legislation to address the 10 per cent attributable to the discriminatory practices under legislation in operation since the 1970s. That is one of the reasons the Government is providing funds this year for pilot projects on childcare and childcare provisions have been written into the EU plan. There are a number of issues in the pipeline. At my request this policy was included in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and I hope  the employers and unions will deliver on that programme. I will continue to monitor it and I can assure the Deputy there will be no complacency on this issue.
Ms Keogh: Will the Minister agree that in the case of equal pay, moral suasion does not work? Can the Minister tell the House exactly when the employment equality legislation will be introduced to the House?
Mr. Taylor: I cannot give any specific date for its introduction but I can assure the Deputy that that legislation will be the first of the two Bills I have described. It is at an advantaged stage of preparation. Some final consultations are taking place and I hope to bring it forward some time this year.
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