Harriet Harman: ‘We must press ahead with equality plans’

Author: By David Hughes, Press Association

She promised to “set the cat amongst the pigeons” by exposing unfair bosses
and would refuse to allow the plans to rest on the “back burner” because of
the downturn.

Speaking to a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Brighton she
warned the “old boy network” would not survive in the economy of the future.

Ms Harman has reportedly clashed with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson over
the flagship Equality Bill, amid claims it would prove too costly for
businesses to implement during the downturn.

But speaking at an event organised by the GMB union, Ms Harman insisted the
legislation was needed now more than ever.

“The economies of the future that are going to be flourishing are not the ones
that are within the old structures and the old boy network; they are the
ones which understand the talents and abilities of everybody, that look to
what everybody can contribute to the workforce and are not stuck in the past
but look to the future and recognise women’s contribution and the
contribution that everyone can make in the workforce.”

She added that equality was “not something that can be put on the back burner
when economic times are difficult”.

Ms Harman continued: “In fact it is when economic times are difficult that it
is even more important that we have equality and fairness and people feel
that we are all in it together and everyone can pull together.”

The Government’s flagship Equality Bill contains measures aimed at closing the
gender pay gap.

Ms Harman said women were paid 22% less an hour than men at the national level.

“We just do not believe that women are 22% less valuable for each hour that
they work, they are not 22% less intelligent, they are not 22% less hard
working.

“What this is, is structural discrimination, pay discrimination against women.”

Under the plans, every firm with more than 200 employees would have to reveal
the average hourly wage earned by men and women.

“The good employer has nothing to fear but the bad employer will have nowhere
to hide,” she said.

“I think it will really set the cat amongst the pigeons on this and it will be
evident, it will be not only about the unequal pay but the unequal
structures in terms of the opportunities for promotion, the opportunities
for people to get on in their career, it will show how much held back you
are if you are a part-time worker.

“I think that is going to be very important indeed.”

Turning to the Tories, she said: “Gordon (Brown) said this election, when it
comes up, is going to be about big choices.

“And one of the big choices is about whether we progress onwards to a more
fair and equal society or whether, with the Tories, the clock is turned
back.”

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