On 20 September 2021, UK MPs took part in an e-petition debate on the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay reporting for UK organisations.
The petition, which received more than 130,000 signatures, followed the introduction of mandatory gender pay reporting and the publication of the McGregor-Smith review of race in the workplace, both in 2017, and a government consultation from October 2018 to January 2019 on ethnicity pay reporting.
The debate revealed broad support for the principle of mandatory ethnicity pay reporting among politicians, the public and business representatives; the only bone of contention is how to move from that consensus to the detail of implementing reporting.
Challenges, to ensuring statistics are sufficiently robust to support change, include the need to report accurately on the many and unevenly spread ethnic groups in the UK, making sure action plans target ethnicity and not just colour, as well as how to address intersectionality, where one individual can be disadvantaged by the combined effect of ethnicity, gender and class.
Whatever methodology is used, employees need to feel reassured that the aim of the data is to understand the organisation or industry they work in, not to identify them as individuals. Without that reassurance, which was not discussed in the debate, there will not be engagement from the workforce.
Some MPs noted that the combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic have significantly disrupted the world of work and there is more upheaval to come, following the end of furlough on 30 September 2021.
They suggested that this period of flux, when many aspects of employer-employee relationships are under review, is an opportunity to take decisive action on equal pay. However, they stopped short of making the more radical suggestion that the current approach to delivering workforce equality is piecemeal and narrow and that there may be room for more creative solutions, ideally ones that take account of disability and socio-economic background as well as gender and ethnicity.
Ranjit Dhindsa is head of employment, pensions, immigration and compliance at law firm Fieldfisher