Playing Fair Is Not Just A Moral Issue

Posted in The Industry on May 10, 2018

The recent national uproar over the 'gender pay gap' and the disastrous consequences for thousands of companies after the collapse of Carillion has thrust the whole issue of fair payment into the limelight.

It is great news that employment is at its highest level since 1975, but it seems that too many people are still not being treated fairly - or ethically - in the workplace. All businesses need to make a profit in order to keep trading and creating jobs, but those profits should not be inflated on the back of shoddy treatment of staff and suppliers.

The average pay gap between women and men in construction-related professions is 36%. That means a woman is paid 36p in the pound per hour less than a man doing the same job. The payment gap is even wider in reality because very few women rise to top executive posts in construction or engineering firms.

Just 9% of engineers in the UK are women; yet many studies show that companies with more diverse work forces enjoy better productivity and, therefore, profitability. So the issue of gender inequality is definitely not just an issue that should concern women. Any company owner or manager should be looking at this closely and making diversity planning a key element of their business strategies.

Financial rewards and job promotions should be awarded on merit and not restrained by gender. Empowering female engineers is also not about diminishing their male colleagues - it is about improving opportunities and rewards for both - and the more women see this happening, the more likely they are to want to take up careers in our industry.


As well as being fairer on pay; our industry needs to be more flexible. For example, we need to adapt our working patterns to make it easier for women to return after having children. In most cases, because of the time women take out of their careers, men are able to progress further and faster - this is one of the key contributing factors to pay inequality.

The whole issue of fair payment is high on the political agenda. It was a new piece of legislation that forced companies to reveal their gender pay gaps for the first time in April. There is now another piece of potential legislation before the House of Commons seeking to address fair payment in construction supply chains.

More than 100 MPs are backing a Bill, placed before the House for its second reading this month, that seeks to reform the system of payment retentions. Representatives from every political party are getting behind the 'Aldous Bill', which seeks to reform the current system so there can never be a repeat of the Carillion catastrophe where £800m of SMEs' money was lost when the company went under.

Prominent supporters include the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Shadow BEIS Minister Rebecca Long-Bailey, Conservative 'Father of the House' Kenneth Clarke, former Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Vince Cable and Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas.

Supporting MPs have increased by a factor of ten since Carillion collapsed in January, six days after the first reading of the Bill by Norfolk MP Peter Aldous. The Chancellor Philip Hammond has also vowed to crack down on "the scourge of late payment".

"We have a golden opportunity to improve the industry for the better, level the playing field for SMEs and protect thousands and thousands of jobs," said Mr Aldous. "The industry loses around £1m every working day, mostly from SMEs. There have been proposals to stop the abuse of retentions before, but this time there is the largest coalition on fair payments ever."

Over 75 trade bodies (representing more than 340,000 businesses) have also united behind the Aldous campaign, which proposes that cash retentions owed to the supply chain are held in trust so they cannot be misused or lost when a major contractor goes bust. Seeking to be paid what you are owed in a reasonable time frame should be the moral and ethical right of any individual or company. Being paid the same amount as another human being doing the same job is, equally, not an unreasonable demand.

There will be a lot of business leaders examining their consciences over the next few weeks, but paying people on time and treating them fairly is not just the morally right thing to do - it is also better for business.

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