Beth Farhat: more needs to be done on equal pay

Regional head of TUC says women are still suffering lower pay as they get into their thirties and forties

Iain Buist Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC
Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC

Rather like Christmas in the shops, equal pay day has come earlier this year.

More than 40 years after the Dagenham strikes and the Equal Pay Act, women’s earnings are still considerably lower than men’s – with the “gender pay gap” sitting at 15.7% for full-time workers. This means that women effectively work for free from November 4 (equal pay day) until January.

What is even more disconcerting is the fact that the situation is getting worse. Equal Pay Day falls three days earlier this year, with the pay gap widening in 2013 for the first time in five years. A woman working full-time now earns on average £5,200 less a year than a man.

New analysis by the TUC of official earnings data shows that full-time men are more than twice as likely as full-time women to be earning £50,000 or more a year – one in 15 women compared to one in seven men.

There are always those who dismiss our concern with the gender pay gap, saying it doesn’t compare like with like. Men and women do different kinds of jobs and women have different motivations, tending to ‘choose’ lower paid vocations over well paid professions, so the criticism goes. The only policy intervention they suggest, if any, is that girls should be given better careers advice and encouragement to enter higher paid, traditionally male-dominated jobs – is that the best that can be done!

However, our look at some of the best paid occupations shows that even in well paid professions that women have entered in increasing numbers, women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues.

The average salary for a man working full time as a solicitor is £53,948 a year and the average for a full-time woman is £43,076 – a pay gap of 20.2%. The pay gap for business or financial project managers is even higher at 27.4 per cent, with men earning an average £55,925 a year while women earn an average £40,622 a year. 

One in four workers in the North East earns less than the living wage of £7.85 an hour, a number that rises to over one in three in places like Darlington and Blaydon.  For women the situation is particularly bleak. In Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland and Darlington more than half of women working part-time are paid below the living wage. Nationally, one in four women working full-time earns less than the living wage, compared to one in six men.

For women working full-time in their twenties, equal pay day comes in the middle of the festive season. But there is little to celebrate if we know that these women are going to experience the same pay penalties associated with motherhood and part time work as their predecessors once they hit their thirties and forties.

To help make every day an equal pay day flexible working rights need to be strengthened for parents and carers, opening up better quality job opportunities for those seeking reduced hours and fathers need greater incentives to take time out of paid work to care for their children, such as better paid leave which is available to them on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis.

Beth Farhat, Northern TUC Regional Secretary

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