Gender is back on the agenda. The Government has set up a Women and Work Commission to investigate the disparity between male and female earnings. With an election in the offing, cynics will dismiss this as a blatant play for the female vote. But the uncomfortable truth is that a stubborn 19.5% pay gap remains between men and women working full-time, 30 years after the UK's equal pay laws came into force. Even more disturbing is the 40% gulf between the hourly wage of men working full-time and women working part-time. The Government has hardly been sitting on its hands. Its new equal pay questionnaire makes it easier for women to discover whether they are being paid in line with male colleagues. And tribunal procedures for determining whether jobs are of equal value have been simplified and streamlined. This should accelerate claims, making them less difficult and expensive to pursue. The new commission will report next autumn on whether pay discrimination laws need further strengthening. One possibility is requiring employers to undertake mandatory audits of their pay systems. But legislation can only go so far in the absence of a major shift in the attitude of employers and society in general to pay and gender.
Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.