Women work for free from today, say campaigners

Because they earn less than men, women will effectively stop earning today, says the Fawcett society. But in these straitened times, is anything likely to change?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Dec 2010
Placards at the ready, ladies – for today is ‘equal pay day’. If the average woman was paid the same annual salary as she gets now, but at the same rate the average man is paid, they’d effectively stop earning money today, apparently – despite the fact there’s nearly a sixth of the year still to go. To mark the occasion, women’s pressure group the Fawcett Society has produced a report calling on the Government to do more to encourage equal pay. But as ever, the issue is far from straightforward…

According to the report, which has the backing of the TUC and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it’s been 40 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, and yet there’s still a pretty hefty gap between the amount men and women earn. In fact, while men earn an average of £16.07 per hour, women make a measly £13.43 – a difference of 16.4%. In some sectors, notably air transport, financial services and textile manufacturing, the gap’s even wider.

To combat that, the society has made a few key recommendations. It’s encouraging employers to embrace flexible working and to fill more senior positions on a job-share basis so women have time with their children, as well as implementing the new Equality Act in full so employers can ‘become more transparent on pay rates’. It also wants businesses to make longer-term budgets, to minimise the impact of introducing equal pay. And it wants tougher sanctions on employers who are discovered to be paying women more than men.

But it’s not necessarily that easy. Figures of this type are invariably skewed by women who choose to take time out to have children – so they may earn less than their male contemporaries because they have less experience. And even if the figures are correct, there’s the obvious point that many businesses – most of which are not run by misogynistic patriarchs who believe a woman’s place is in the home – simply don’t have the funds at the moment to up pay rates. Today’s CIPD report has already predicted that Government cuts (which the Fawcett Society itself says will affect more women) will be responsible for 650,000 job losses in the private sector. If businesses started raising wages for women, the likelihood is that more jobs would be lost.

Of course, that’s not to say that pay equality isn’t still a major problem for UK plc. And by adopting some of the Fawcett Society’s recommendations, businesses could certainly make it easier for women to return to work after taking time out. But it’s by no means a simple problem to solve.

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