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Who determines which jobs in a business are of equal worth? Surely, the only person who can determine whether or not two different jobs in a company have equal worth is the company itself. How on earth can the Government decide for an employer which jobs in a company are of equal worth? How can a tribunal or judge do so? The only people who can do so are the employers themselves,
because of the difference that the jobs make to their companies. All these provisions are absolute nonsense. Either they are completely pointless, or they will have a terrible effect, so I would rather that they were not in the Bill at all. That is why my amendments would delete them.
Lynne Featherstone: The hon. Gentleman has gone on about the best person for the job, but does he agree with me-probably not-that the definition of what is best might make a difference to the employer? The word "best" has traditionally covered the skills that are male, but what is actually best might be completely different. Does he therefore agree that, if people are equally qualified, considering what is best could equalise the work force?
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady introduces into the debate the fact that what is best is a subjective matter. It therefore seems even more pointless to try to pass all these things to a tribunal and a court for a decision, because they are obviously subjective. Who is to say that her view is more relevant than someone else's or that the tribunal chairman's view is more relevant than the employer's. They are, by definition, subjective. So rather than my agreeing with her, she appears to be agreeing with me.
Amendments 65, 66 and 67 deal with an interesting part of the Bill. In effect, the Government are saying on this equal jobs thing that if A can demonstrate that they are being treated less favourably than B, the terms for A must be changed to match B's terms. It is an interesting theory that, in effect, everything must be equalised upwards. If the Government and Labour Members are absolutely committed to equality, they should not care whether the terms are equalised upwards or downwards, so long as they are equal. So why on earth is it necessary to equalise upwards? Why will the Government not allow the terms to be equalised downwards? If we are talking about an equality Bill, that should be neither one thing nor the other to the Government.
Some recent disputes with local authorities provide some evidence of why such an equalising measure is not in the Bill. Leeds council is a prime example, where the binmen have been on strike over pay for about 11 or 12 weeks. The reason why everyone is up in arms in certain local authorities-Sheffield is another one that suffered from this-is that, because of the single status thing, everyone in jobs with a predominance of certain genders had to be paid equally. That ended up with lots of people being paid less, so they all went on strike.
It strikes me that, out there in the country, there is no great demand for equality; people just want to have their terms and conditions protected. I want the Government to have the courage of their convictions. If they believe that equality is the be-all and end-all of any legislation, let them put it in the Bill that people's conditions can be equalised downwards as well as upwards. I suspect that their commitment to equality will probably not go that far.
"the long-term objective of reducing inequality between men's and women's terms of work is always to be regarded as a legitimate aim."
I do not see that as something that should always be regarded as a legitimate aim, because it might inadvertently allow another practice to take place that people might find unacceptable. I do not necessarily see that as a legitimate aim, and I do not think the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) does either, if she is honest about it. She did not accept that for part-time work, women are paid a higher hourly rate than men, but that is the case, as shown by figures from the Office for National Statistics.
I know that the Government fiddle the figures from the Office for National Statistics and get into terrible trouble for so doing, but the facts are that the average pay for a woman part-time worker is £7.51 per hour and the corresponding average pay for a man is £7.26. I do not think that that is illegitimate, and there may be all sorts of reasons for it. A high proportion of the women who tend to do part-time work may have had a career beforehand and choose, because they have had a family or it suits their circumstances best, to go into work in which they have a lot of experience and expertise behind them. The men who tend to do part-time work are much younger-people who leave university or school and therefore have less experience. It is inevitable that part-time women workers will be paid more, on average, than part-time men workers. I do not see that as a bad thing. It reflects what the real world is like out there. We do not need clauses to stop that practice. That is wholly unnecessary.
Amendment 69 deals with maternity pay and the requirement that women's pay when they return to work should be what it would have been if they had not been away at all. How on earth can anybody know what somebody would have been paid if they had not taken nine months or a year off? They might have got a promotion, if they had been there to apply for it. That is totally unenforceable, and I am not sure that it is particularly desirable.
Amendment 70 relates to the discussions on pay among employees. The Bill would oblige employers to disclose what other people were paid. I do not know how many hon. Members in the Chamber have worked in big companies, or in small companies, for that matter. I can think of nothing more likely to cause friction in the workplace than everybody telling each other how much they are paid. People may be paid differently for all sorts of reasons. It may be nothing to do with their race, gender, sexuality or whatever. There may be other reasons why people are paid more or less. All I can say to the Government is that if they introduce that clause, there will be more fighting going on in workplaces around the country than we have ever seen, and the number of days on strike will probably go up massively.
Clause 75 deals with the gender pay gap. As I said, I do not see it as a problem that part-time women workers are paid, on average, more than their male counterparts. I do not see why Members see that as a problem and I look forward to hearing from the Minister why she is wholly opposed to part-time women workers earning, on average, more than part-time men workers.
The question arises whether it will be possible to implement these measures. The Equality and Human Rights Commission exists to lecture everybody else, as the Minister said, and if she has her way, to take
recalcitrant employers to court over the gender pay gap and other such matters. I shall be charitable. I do not think the Equality and Human Rights Commission is a particularly nasty body, or that it sets out to discriminate against ethnic minorities, women or disabled people. Perhaps it does. If someone holds that view, let them stand up and explain why they believe that.
However, even the Equality and Human Rights Commission pays its male staff, on average, more than its female staff. It pays its white employees more than their ethnic minority colleagues, and its non-disabled staff more than its staff with disabilities. If even the EHRC cannot meet the Government's aims, how can they expect it to go round the country lecturing everybody else on how to do it? It is utter nonsense.
Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. That seems to be a trait among the equality industry right across the United Kingdom. Is he aware, for example, that in Northern Ireland the Equality Commission, which has come down very hard on employers where there is an imbalance between those who come from the Catholic community and those who come from the Protestant community, has gross inequality in its employment practices, employing many more Catholics than Protestants, and justifying that as well?
Philip Davies: I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. The information about the Equality and Human Rights Commission is published. Every year I ask what the pay gap is. When I asked the question recently, it emerged that on race and on disability the pay gap at the EHRC is considerably worse this year than it was last year, so it is not as though the EHRC is getting there gradually-it is going backwards. This is public information. Publishing the information does not make everything hunky-dory. I fear that much of the Bill is motherhood and apple pie, enabling people to feel good about themselves, but it is a fantasy world, not the real world.
Amendments 75 to 78 are minor amendments. Amendment 75 would exempt the armed forces from the provisions of certain parts of the Bill. The purpose of amendments 76 and 77 is to question why the Government are so keen to see proceedings move from courts to tribunals. My fear is that the Government feel that it will be easier for people to take discrimination cases to tribunals than to courts. They are trying to throw as many cases as possible before tribunals to get the outcome that they want.
Amendment 93 covers positive action. I have spoken at length about why I believe positive discrimination and positive action are bad. The final five amendments of mine in the present group relate initially to pensions. Amendment 127 refers to schedule 9, which contains lists of categories-religious group exemptions, it seems to me-to which certain provisions would not apply. One such case envisages a requirement not to be married in order to qualify for a particular job. My amendment adds to that a requirement to be married. If, in some cases, it is fine that not being married is a requirement, by definition it should be fine that in some cases there is a requirement to be married.
My last two amendments are important. Many people in the country are concerned about age discrimination. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said at the outset that she did not agree with any of my amendments. I look forward to her telling the House why she is against these amendments. The Bill allows employers to force people to retire at the age of 65. My amendment would delete that requirement and would not allow employers to retire people forcibly when they reach the age of 65.
I am interested not only in the hon. Lady's position on this, but in the Minister's position. If she truly believes in equality, why does she think it is fine that somebody is doing a perfectly good job aged 64 and 364 days, but the next day, when that person is doing an equally good job, the employer should get rid of them by forcing them to retire?
I should have thought that age discrimination was an important topic to cover, so, if the Bill is about equality and about trying to get rid of different forms of discrimination, why does the Solicitor-General think it fine to force people to retire aged 65? They are presumably just as good at their job on the day that they turn 65 as they were on the day before that. That is where the Government get into problems with such Bills. They have a hierarchy of equality: some protected characteristics, as they call them, are more important than others. That flies in the face of what an equality Bill should be about, so, if the Government believe in equality, let them bring forward a Bill that delivers on equality.
I have a problem with the Bill before us, and my amendments are important because, through them, I am trying to deliver a Bill that offers true equality, whereby people are given jobs on merit and are not just fired for the sake of their age. If the Government want to show that they truly believe in equality, they will incorporate those proposals.
Lynne Featherstone: The hon. Gentleman has caught me out. That is one of his amendments with which I do, sadly, agree. Age discrimination, which we discussed at other stages of the Bill, is not appropriate, and the existing provision is an oddity in the Bill.
Philip Davies: A rare triumph! I have actually got a Member-a Liberal Democrat Member, I might add-to agree with me on a matter relating to the Equality Bill. I can leave this Chamber a happy man. Whatever else happens throughout the course of today, I shall be able to go to bed tonight, lie there, smile and think, "I've actually had a rare triumph." It is a red-letter day for me, and on that basis I will quit while I am ahead.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): I shall speak to new clause 25 and amendment 34 in my name. Both are proposed changes that seek to remove the terrible discrimination against non-UK seamen sailing on British ships between British ports.
New clause 25 would apply the national minimum wage to seafarers who are either ordinarily resident in the UK and sailing on British-registered ships, or sailing on ships that trade solely between UK ports or offshore installations-a very narrow definition. It could be argued-indeed, it has been in this House and in the other place-that the minimum wage should apply to all seafarers on all UK vessels when they are trading in
UK territorial waters. That seems to me, to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, to Nautilus International, of which I am still a member, and to the TUC to be a very reasonable way of removing the inequalities in current legislation and putting an end to the shameful exploitation of non-UK seafarers on British ships.
Unfortunately, Ministers in both Houses have resisted such reform for a series of reasons. Although I and supporters of the reform do not consider those reasons to be valid, we have none the less taken heed of them and narrowed our new clause substantially. New clause 25 is therefore very narrowly scripted as a means of making some progress, because under current law some ship operators are getting away with murder. We have evidence of pay rates, conditions of service and hours of duty that have been described as "modern-day slavery".
There are countless examples of poverty pay on British ships trading between British ports. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) gave two examples, but there are many more. For instance, Streamline, operating from Aberdeen to Lerwick, pays just £314 a month-one third of the national minimum wage equivalent; Varun shipping company, which sails out of Aberdeen and from Peterhead to the offshore oil industry, pays workers as little as £262 a month. Some Filipino seamen are paid just over £2 an hour; Estonian able seamen-qualified able seamen-on the regular Heysham to Belfast service are on just £433 a month; and the list goes on. It is not restricted to a couple of examples; it is wide-ranging and getting worse. Sadly, there are many other shameful examples, and that cannot be right, which is why the unions have been pressing for reform for so long.
The remaining arguments against extending the national minimum wage in the circumstances described in new clause 25 are becoming fewer and entirely predictable. The Chamber of Shipping argues that some operators might flag out of the British flag, but that is the sort of blackmail that big business and employers adopted during the introduction of the minimum wage in the first place. Whenever workers' rights are improved, big business, the CBI and the official Opposition come forward with all sorts of nightmare scenarios for a particular case. We know from the national minimum wage negotiations, and from the fact that we are now 10 years on from them, that none of those dire predictions came true; in fact, most changes went in the opposite direction to those that were forecast.
John McDonnell: Will my hon. Friend remind the House that when the Government became the Administration in 1997, we introduced the tonnage tax to support such companies? Between £80 million to £100 million has been given to them in total, and the quid pro quo was that they would promote British seafaring employment, but that has not occurred.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since Labour introduced the tonnage tax, the volume of traffic under the British flag has trebled-a massive change. When we introduced the tax, the British flag register was so small that many people, the industry and the Chamber of Shipping included, thought that it would disintegrate, and that the flag would no longer be credible. During the original negotiations, promises and
assurances were made that the increase in the British flag registry would be reflected in more training and more jobs for British workers, but that never happened, and that is wrong. In fact, we are meeting the Prime Minister shortly to pursue the matter.
Going by the many meetings that we have had with Ministers and officials over the past eight years, I get the feeling that they are starting to agree with our sentiments on equality. They understand the principles behind reforming the law and making things fairer, and their only defence is that the changes conflict with the international law of the sea. I hope that the Solicitor-General will comment on that point when she responds.
We are told that Foreign and Commonwealth Office lawyers say that, in their opinion, applying the minimum wage as described would infringe the law of the sea and the rights of innocent passage. Indeed, that has been the Government's view since we started pressing for these reforms-a long time ago. In the final paragraph of a letter dated 9 November that the RMT and I received recently, my very good friend, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark) wrote that
"the Government's interpretation of the law...is legally sound. Therefore, it is with regret that we cannot consider this matter further. I understand that this will be a disappointment to you but I know you understand the importance of adhering to international law."
Well, we were disappointed, not least for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington outlined a few moments ago, and for the fact that our legal advice indicates that new clause 25 would not, contrary to what has been said, infringe the international law of the sea. So far, we have been denied sight of the Foreign Office's legal advice, and we look forward to seeing it sometime.
I am not a lawyer or trained in the law, but I have spent many years at sea, and my lay understanding of innocent passage has always been that vessels should be allowed to sail on the high seas and in other countries' territorial waters without the threat of being stopped, boarded, searched or impounded. It is hard to relate those important and widespread protections to the narrow issues in new clause 25 and the application of the national minimum wage. These inequalities have persisted for far too long, and they cry out to be part of this important Bill. Without a far more positive response from those on the Front Bench, I intend to press the new clause to a vote when the opportunity arises.
John McDonnell: Apart from the fact that the Government seem to be isolated in this interpretation of the law, I remind my hon. Friend that in numerous debates in this Chamber he has cited the concept that the other pieces of legislation that we have enacted-on health and safety, criminal law and so on-do apply to ships that pass through British waters. Why, therefore, does this legislative proposal, exceptionally, not apply?
Gwyn Prosser: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A third fairly recent example is that of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which specifically covers all sorts of contingencies in home waters and, indeed, in waters overseas. There are ways of providing these reforms without conflicting with or infringing international law.
Amendment 34 is also to do with giving better rights to non-UK seafarers. It relates to the Race Relations Act 1976, which exempted seafarers from all the good things that it introduced. In the past 48 hours, we have had the publication of the regulations that we are told will be attached to the Bill. We have been asking for- shouting for, perhaps even demanding-those regulations, not for many months, but for many years. They are a step forward; they show some sort of progress. We have had private assurances from the Minister on their likely future progress, and we have been assured that they will remove at least the worst elements of discrimination and pay differentiation on vessels sailing in British waters. We look forward to hearing more about how that will be taken forward.
John McDonnell: I want to ensure that the House is fully clear about just how far we have compromised on this matter. Under the proposals that the Government put forward for consultation, there is still a prospect that there will be differential rates of pay with regard to nationals of any EC or European economic area state. The Philippines is excluded from the list of countries in the proposals, so Filipino workers could still be discriminated against in terms of race. The proposals still include this phrase,
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