Gender pay gap is taken to task

Unequal pay between women and men continues to hurt individuals and the national economy.

Despite 30 years of equal pay legislation the gap between women’s and men’s hourly earnings stands at 18%, while women working part-time can expect to earn 39% less per hour than a man working full-time.

This sorry record prompted the Equal Opportunities Commission to set up the Equal Pay Task Force, an independent body comprising members from major UK and global businesses, trade unions, the Civil Service, public sector bodies and local government. In addition, there were legal and academic experts, a specialist equal pay consultant and the MD of a small business.

In January the Engineer reported that manufacturing industry representatives were denying the existence of pay inequality, putting pay differences down to the fact that women and men often do different kinds of job. This is a common argument and not one to be dismissed out of hand.

The Task Force recognises that three main factors contribute to the pay gap: the concentration of women in a relatively small number of low-paid jobs; the unequal impact of women’s family responsibilities and; discrimination in pay. Clearly, much needs to be done to ensure that women and men have access to a wide range of educational and career choices and can choose how to fulfil their childcare responsibilities.

But pay discrimination is nevertheless estimated by academics to account for 25 – 50% of the pay gap, and this issue was the focus of our investigation. Over the past year we have gathered evidence from around the country and last month we published Just Pay, which makes a number of proposals for action that will help close the pay gap.

Our recommendations highlight the need for employers and unions to raise awareness of the pay gap and to provide improved guidance on how to review pay systems. We call for changes in the law to speed up and simplify tribunal procedures and introduce a requirement on employers to carry out pay reviews, and report on their progress on achieving equal pay.

We also propose the government should assess how policies such as the National Minimum Wage, National Childcare Strategy and National Skills Agenda could help close the pay gap.

research shows that 98% of employers in manufacturing are confident their pay systems are fair, although only 27% of respondents monitor the relative pay of women and men.

Our researchers found that in manufacturing, male-dominated professional and technical and skilled manual jobs are often thought to have greater intrinsic value than female-dominated jobs.

Although the government has not accepted our proposal for a legal requirement on employers to carry out simple checks of their pay systems, I would urge all employers to take action on a voluntary basis. Unequal pay does not only affect individual women and their families; employers and the national economy lose out too. Competitiveness suffers, and, if employees are not fairly rewarded for their work, employers are less able to recruit and retain the best people.

The Task Force believes the pay gap could be reduced by 50% within the next five years, and to eliminate it entirely within eight. But this will only be possible with the will, commitment, resources and concerted action of employers, unions and the government.