21 November 2013

Yet another UKIP attack on gender equality

So much for my early night. What I wanted was to have a bit of a read, and a kip, but then I made the mistake of checking Facebook, and being drawn to a link showing yet another UKIP attack on the gender equality programme, thinly veiled as some kind of rant about the EU. So much so typical, but the basis of this attack is so thin and misaligned it really needs answering, and now I'm all fired up and awake. Great.

The article in question is this:

It claims: "An amendment that would allow governments to dissolve companies that do not adhere to a gender quota system of 40% in senior positions has been passed by the European Parliament today." And goes on to say "This legislation is barmy and confirms once more that Euro-fanatics have very little economic sense about them."

With this being so outrageously dangerous to our economy and business (despite the documented evidence that suggests that a more balanced board of directors leads to better run and more successful companies), you would have thought that UKIP MEP's would have turned up in force to bravely defend the UK against such proposals. But no, so much did they care about their important role as our democratic voice in the EU that half of them couldn't be bothered to turn up to vote, although the other half followed their usual voting habits and voted against it (as they do with nearly all EU policy, irrespective of whether it is beneficial to us or not).

Still, with UKIP MEP's having the worst voting attendance records in the European parliament, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, in fact 50% probably represents quite a good turnout for them. This shouldn't detract from the validity of there outrage though... should it? I mean, it is justified right, half of UKIP's MEP's wouldn't vote against measures to improve gender equality for no good reason... would they?

The amendment text they seem to take offense to (we can only assume, they provide no link or reference, unlike my good self here) is this:

" It should be possible for Member States to go beyond the non-exhaustive list of sanctions provided for in this Directive and to add, inter alia, the forced dissolution of the company concerned, ordered by a competent judicial body in full respect of proper procedural safeguards, in cases of serious and repeated infringements by that company."

Now that does seem to back up their claim. It would indeed be folly to dissolve a company for failing to get a minimum of 40% of its directors to be women by 2020, even if they are repeatedly failing to do so (a subtle point not conveyed by UKIP of course). However if we read the whole passage being amended we see a much less subtle, and far more significant point they seem to 'miss':

"30) Member States should provide for effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for breaches of the requirements for an open and transparent procedure set out in this Directive, which could include, inter alia, administrative fines, exclusion from public calls for tenders, partial exclusion from the award of funding from the Union's Structural Funds, and nullity or annulment declared by a judicial body of the appointment or of the election of non-executive directors made contrary to the national provisions adopted pursuant to Article 4(1). It should be possible for Member States to go beyond the non-exhaustive list of sanctions provided for in this Directive and to add, inter alia, the forced dissolution of the company concerned, ordered by a competent judicial body in full respect of proper procedural safeguards, in cases of serious and repeated infringements by that company."

Sanctions are only applied for failure to introduce open and transparent procedures. It also only says that member state should be able to, not made to, use such sanctions as dissolution... and even then only with judicial review and for serious repeated infringements. So UKIP are, ironically, complaining that member states should not be restricted in what sanctions they can impose for failure to introduce open and transparent procedures. And what are these procedures?

" Member States shall ensure that listed companies in whose boards members of the under-represented sex hold less than 40 per cent of the non-executive director positions adjust their recruitment, including vacancy announcements calling for applications, pre-selection, selection and appointment procedures in such a way that they effectively contribute to the attainment of the said percentage at the latest by 1 January 2020"

So not to actually attain the 40% of the under represented gender, just to put in place selection procedures which create a level playing field for male d female candidates... which will help attain, eventually, a more equal board. Call me a terrible feminist liberal hippy, but in the 21st century, shouldn't every company be doing this anyway, especially with the existence of our own equalities act?

Of course, like all EU directives, the way this is actually applied in the UK is up to the UK government, so the UK government would have been free to have done this anyway, all the amendment does is make it clear that the EU shouldn't seek to restrict what individual member state think is appropriate...and I thought UKIP were in favour of member states retaining powers?

Of course out of 66 amendments, this can't be the only one they opposed could it? Well no, they also complain that:

"Another amendment passed will mean that the under-represented gender will be given preferential treatment in the recruitment, selection and appointment of non-executive directors."

Again they fail (or choose not to) include any of the information that explains the limitations on this. An extract of this amendment reads:

"In order to attain the objective of 40 % and in accordance with Article 23(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Member States shall ensure that, at every stage in the recruitment, selection or appointment procedures for non-executive directors, priority is given to the candidate of the under-represented sex if that candidate is equally qualified as a candidate of the other sex in terms of suitability, competence and professional performance, unless an objective assessment, taking account of all criteria specific to the individual candidates, tilts the balance in favour of the candidate of the other sex."

And an earlier part of the same clause reads:

"Members States shall ensure that companies guarantee gender diversity in the composition of the shortlist of candidates while ensuring that the sex of the non-executive director elected in this procedure is not in any way predetermined.”

So basically if a man and a woman are both equally qualified and suitable, and your company has a significant lack of female representation on the board, you should appoint the woman, and that the actual appointment procedure must not predetermine the gender of the appointed person. Maybe it's just my hippy liberal side again, but that really doesn't sound like it's " tokenistic positive discrimination" as UKIP puts it; just common sense.

So what about the other 64 amendments, anything else there that would justify voting it down?

Maybe it was some of these that UKIP found objectionable:

" (2a) In order to achieve gender equality in the workplace there must be a gender-balanced model of decision-making at all levels within the company while also ensuring the elimination of the gender pay gap, which contributes significantly to the feminisation of poverty."

" (7a) Companies and businesses should consider the creation of a pipeline of board- and management-ready women that encourages, supports and develops female talent at all levels and throughout their careers."

" (7b) In order to ensure the promotion of gender equality, Member States should put in place provisions whereby men and women can combine work and family life, with, in particular, flexible arrangements and support for those with care responsibilities."

"Among non-executive directors only 15 per cent were women, which is a clear indication of a democratic deficit and of unfair and discriminatory representation of women, in violation of Union principles of equal opportunities and equal treatment of both sexes in the fields of employment and occupation."

" (11a) Member States should adopt strategies moving towards a socio-cultural shift in their approach to gender balance by using versatile means to encourage women's participation in the management hierarchy and the taking-up of proactive approaches and actions by employers. Such means could include, inter alia, promoting flexible work schedules and encouraging family-friendly workplaces by providing access to day care."

"It is therefore important for board appointment procedures to be clear and transparent and for applicants to be assessed objectively on their individual merits, irrespective of gender."

I could go on listing these but honestly none of them are any reason to object, in fact, together with the rest of the proposals, they set out a sensible, proactive and much needed effort to tackle gender inequality in the world of business. It seems pretty clear that what UKIP are objecting to is not an attack on business' ability to prosper, but an attempt to redress the significant biaagainst women in both responsibility and pay in business.

UKIP have continually fought and voted against this proposal, for which they should he deeply ashamed of themselves. To try and dress this up as some kind of dangerous attack on business by the EU is actually less disgusting than their general opposition (which is a damning reflection of the party's views on equality) although doing so is obviously in line with their usual small minded objective of trying to distract people from what is really being discussed and trying to be achieved by the EU.

What's almost worse is that these people are representing us within Europe, their views are being presented as our views, they are voting against things which the vast majority of the British public would support and benefit from. Do us all a favour, and come 2014 go out and vote in anyone who isn't one of these lazy elected spongers, getting paid over £80k to treat their position as a part time job dragging our reputation as a country through the mud.

The way MEP's voted can be read seen here (ukip are members of the EFD political group in the EU):