Northern Ireland left out of new equal pay for women laws

Today, an Equalities Bill is published by Harriet Harman the Minister for Women that among many other things requires all firms employing 250 workers or more to publish their hourly rates of pay. This is to put pressure on firms to close the 20% pay gap between men and women that still exists in the UK, 40 years after Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act. For GB, equality issues are still mainly a Westminster matter. The Scottish government has its own anti-discrimination programme in the public services it runs and it asks for some cross border and other measures to be part of the UK Bill under the Sewell convention. This allows Westminster to legislate for a devolved area with the relevant Administration’s consent. Equality laws are not part of Welsh devolution but the Bill allows ministers there to add on their own bits.

Equality in Northern Ireland is different – don’t we know it? – and most equality matters are devolved, unlike Scotland and Wales. Unless I’ve got it wrong,
a local Bill only extends disability and a few other measures without tackling mainstream gender equality in pay in the pubic and private sectors. GB industry, jibbing at alleged extra costs involved got the Bill watered down to remain voluntary until a 2013 review. Has NI industry and business escaped altogether or is the Executive asleep on the job again? Can someone please clarify? Details from the Bill’s explanatory notes ( see under Territorial extent and application)


The Bill contains provisions that trigger the Sewel Convention in relation to Scotland. The Scottish Ministers can already impose specific equality duties on Scottish public authori-ties and on the devolved functions of cross-border authorities following appropriate consultation. Provisions in this Bill will replicate this situation. The Scottish Ministers will be able to impose specific duties on relevant Scottish authorities (clause 147) and by order to amend Part 3 of Schedule 19 which lists the relevant Scottish authorities to which the general public sector equality duty applies (clause 145).

Clause 2 of the Bill provides a power for Welsh Ministers to add any relevant Welsh authority to the authorities subject to the duty in clause 1 to consider socio-economic inequalities. The Bill also confers powers on the Welsh Ministers in relation to the public sector equality duty.

Equal opportunities and discrimination are “transferred matters” under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As such, with a few exceptions the Bill does not form part of the law of Northern Ireland

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London