The importance of enforcing legislation on equal pay and sex discrimination

A specialist public agency should be set up to ensure that sex discrimination and equal pay legislation is enforced, according to a new book.

In The Stalled Revolution. Is Equality for Women an Impossible Dream?, Eva Tutchell and John Edmonds say that the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act have failed because they rely on individual women to take cases to employment tribunals which often results in them being humiliated or demoralised by their employers’ lawyers.

They write: “The enforcement of important social legislation should not depend on the willingness of individual women to accept public martyrdom.”

They say a public agency could identify apparent breaches of the legislation and threaten legal action, including class actions on behalf of groups of women.

While Tutchell and Edmonds are in favour of transparency over pay to highlight inequality, they say the government’s gender pay audit legislation is “a rather feeble compromise” because there is no agency to enforce organisations to comply with the law. They think the audits are unlikely to change the culture of pay setting in the UK. “Much more likely is that each organisation will publish its information with a little homily telling us how hard they are working to eliminate inequality. And they will repeat those warm words next year and every year into the future,” they write.

That pessimism is based on years of experience of how previous legislation has failed due to lack of enforcement.

To celebrate 100 years since some women got the vote, the book traces the roots of feminism, charts its progress, including lessons learnt, and calls for a third leap forward. The two previous periods of progress – before the First World War and the 1970s – were followed by decades of “unimpressive” gains. “We do not want a period of frenzy followed by another forty years of fallow. Next time the revolution must be sustained,” write Tutchell and Edmonds.

In addition to action over enforcement, they call for quotas for women on boards similar to the Norwegian model, the normalisation of paid career breaks and mandatory advertising of all board-level positions and senior posts in the largest 350 companies in Britain carrying a salary of over £100,000 a year.

The book says feminism is not just about equality with men which can sometimes mean “little more than joining men in their own distress”. It demands more radical grassroots change, led by women with its priorities and policy determined by women, to eliminate all discrimination and to ensure that the needs of women are met.

It states: “From the outset, a new liberation campaign should set itself the objective of meeting the needs of women. If that involves revolutionary change in the society that men have created, then so be it. A better life for women will also mean, if they have the eyes to see it, a better life for most men.”

*The Stalled Revolution. Is Equality for Women an Impossible Dream? by Eva Tutchell and John Edmonds is published by Emerald Publishing.

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