On 25 October 2017 the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill (the "Bill") passed the Committee Stage of the Seanad, following a floor debate. The Bill seeks to improve upon the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974 and to close the existing pay gap of 13.9% between men and women in Ireland. The Bill, put forward by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, contains provisions for the increased monitoring and publication of gender pay gap data, provisionally enforced by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
If passed, IHREC, which already has the power to require an employer to carry out an equality review, will be given the further ability to oblige companies with 50 employees or more to publish the results of such a review.
The United Kingdom introduced gender pay gap reporting on 6 April 2017 under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, with a qualifying threshold of 250 employees or more.
Several amendments to the Bill had been tabled prior to the Seanad debate, with a view to limiting IHREC's discretion to request and publish surveys and to compelling employers to participate. A system of fines for offending employers and a database of companies not in compliance were also proposed.
Minister of State for Justice, David Stanton, delivering the Government's submissions, successfully argued for the withdrawal of these proposed amendments, although they may be proposed again during the upcoming Report Stage.
Deputy Stanton submitted to the Seanad that smaller employers, in particular, require a greater degree of flexibility. Regular mandatory reporting for a company of a smaller size, it was suggested, may make it possible for employees to deduce an individual's salary, thereby breaching their data protection rights. It was also proposed that the Department of Justice and Equality would be a more appropriate enforcement body, with IHREC limited to an oversight and monitoring role.
The Deputy's comments suggest that further Government amendments, to be compiled during the upcoming Report Stage, will see the Bill focus on larger employers initially. Commentary surrounding the Bill suggests that the Government may seek to raise the qualifying threshold to 100 employees.
It is likely that, following the Report Stage, an amended Bill will be put back to the Seanad in the New Year. While aspects of the Bill are yet to be finalised, its central aim of eradicating the gender pay gap currently has cross-party support. It would, therefore, seem likely that Government-led measures will be enacted in 2018.