Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Tackling the equal pay gap

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The reconvened Women and Work Commission has produced a report with a series of 43 policy actions which it suggests might make a contribution to narrowing the equal pay gap. The report pays particular attention to what can be done in education to tackle occupational segregation characteristics which act to divert women to poorly-valued, underpaid jobs, as well as to what needs to be done to allow women to access continued learning and development opportunities and to encourage a better balance between work and family life for all. The report also looks at what is beng done in the public sector.

The report is produced against the backdrop of an equal pay gap which is not only no longer closing but is actually widening – the gap was 22.2% in 2009, compared to 21.9% in 2007 when the Commission last reported (similarly, the gap for full-time workers has also risen, from 12.5% in 2007 to 12.8% now).

There has been some progress on some issues but, in terms both of education of the under 14s and in terms of balancing work and family life, the Commission highlights that significant progress since 2007 has yet to be made.

The policy actions suggested by the Commission will make a difference – even if some of them are clearly geared to the long-term. That’s the right focus – looking back over the nearly 40 years history of the Equal Pay Act (before which it was perfectly legitimate for there to be four rates of pay in a factory: the skilled rate; the semi-skilled rate; the unskilled rate; and the women’s rate), which is a pretty clear definition of the long-term, progress has clearly been made.

But more needs to be done and, whether or not we’re in a recession, the lack of equal pay remains a travesty (a ‘national scandal’, in the eyes of Rowena Lewis, acting Director of the Fawcett Society). Alongside the Society, I believe that systemic discrimination within pay systems tends to explain a large part of the equal pay gap which remains (almost certainly so amongst Connect members at managerial and professional level) and would like to see every company compelled to produce a regular equal pay audit. Equal pay audits (not one of the Commission’s 43 policy actions) can be a powerful tool for identifying, rooting out and preventing the re-occurrence of equal pay problems but (perhaps as a result) statutory backing for them appears likely to be necessary, with employers tending to be reluctant to engage in such a process on a voluntary basis.

Shame that the employer representatives on the Commission (as I imagine) managed to get this defeated yet again.

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Written by Calvin

29/07/2009 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Trade union issues, Working lives

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