In the wake of a number of high-profile criticisms of gender pay differentials, the Labour Party’s Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 (the “Bill”), passed the Committee Stage of the legislative process on Wednesday evening, 25 October 2017.

The purpose of the Bill, according to the Labour Party, is to;

“drive down the existing gender pay gap in Ireland of around 14%”

The Bill, in its current form, seeks to amend the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 by providing the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) with the power to devise a scheme (the “Scheme”) requiring certain employers:

“to publish information relating to the pay of their employees for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees and, if so, the nature and scale of such differences."

As currently drafted, the Scheme will only apply to employers with more than 50 employees. The Scheme would require relevant employers to publish information in relation to, among others things:

  1. the difference between the mean hourly rate of pay of male employees and that of female employees;
  2. the difference between the mean bonus pay paid to male employees and that paid to female employees;
  3. the proportions of male and female employees who are paid bonuses; and
  4. the proportions of male and female employees in the lower, lower to middle, upper middle and upper quartile pay bands.

In addition to the above, the Scheme may prescribe how to calculate, for ease of comparison, the pay of employees, details relating to the information required to be published under the Scheme as well as the form, manner and frequency with which the information must be published.

Sanctions for breach

The Bill provides that an employer who contravenes the provisions of the Scheme will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a class A fine, which attaches a maximum fine of €5,000.

There were also discussions at the Committee Stage regarding the creation of a register of those companies who breach the requirements of the Scheme, however, no definitive position has been taken by the Government on this point as of yet.

Next steps

Having passed the Committee Stage, the Bill will now move to the Report Stage of the legislative process, at which, the Government has stated it is its intention to bring forward a number of amendments to the current form of the Bill. Some commentators have suggested that the 50 employee threshold is quite low and that the Government may increase the threshold for application to 100 employees.

Given the level of support for this Bill, it is likely to be enacted sooner rather than later and employers must be prepared. In discussions before the Seanad this week, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. David Stanton, noted:

“I take the opportunity to ask all companies, both public and private, to start focusing on this matter now. It is important that all companies, both public and private, do so if they have not already started."

We will monitor progress on this Bill and will be publishing further updates on developments in relation to its enactment and potential implications for employers.