Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Equal Pay Day - working women can now go home for the rest of the year

Well, not really, but the reason why the Fawcett Society have claimed today as Equal Pay Day is that women working full time earn on average 16.4% less than men. This means that women are effectively only being paid up until today while men get paid until 31 December. And these figures are only average. Apparently in some areas, like finance, the differential can be 55%.

But hang on, we have a law to deal with that, don't we? The Equal Pay Act? I mean, that's what Made in Dagenham, the film with sweary words in that Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone wants our 12 year olds to see, shock horror, is all about, isn't it?

So it seems that we have a 40 year old Act of Parliament saying there should be equal pay, but no mechanism to deliver it.

And business will grumble to the Tories that they can't possibly afford to carry out gender pay audits, and of course they shouldn't be put under pressure to pay women more because, like, there's a recession on.

Well, business, it's the law that you do pay your employees equally, and if you have found that 40 years hasn't been long enough for you to get your affairs in order so that you can stick to the law, I have only one thing to say to you. Tough.

Imagine if you paid people of different ethnic origin different rates for the same job? Or people of different religions? Ludicrous? Well so is discrimination on the grounds of gender.

The one bit of less bad news is that in Scotland the gap is slightly smaller, at 12.2%, but that's still not good enough and may actually be because wages are generally lower up here and we have a higher proportion of people in the public sector. However working in the public sector doesn't protect you as we have seen from the arguments over single status around the country. According to Fawcett, women council workers south of the border found out they were missing out on bonuses of up to 160% paid to male colleagues doing work of a similar nature.

I really don't want there to be some great golden jubilee celebration of the Equal Pay Act in 10 years' time, when my daughter hits the workforce, where we are still bemoaning a gender pay gap. It's time to get it sorted once and for all.

1 comment:

Douglas McLellan said...

I have read the Fawcett Societies briefing on Equal Pay Day and it is, frankly, more than a little slippery with its argument.

There needs to be a clear separation of the various issues. The differing rates of pay for men and women doing 'exactly' the same job (which of course is totally wrong) from the wider issue of the totality of working women in the UK earning earning 16.5% less than the totality of working men in the UK.

It is telling that of the demands made by the Fawcett Society only one is related to an examination of pay.

What would a gender pay audit reveal though - what would be the recommendations to close any gap? If the gap was due to too few women at the top of the organisation then is the solution just to recruit more female directors? Does that do anything for the lower paid women in the organisation? If the pay gap was because to many women were at the bottom of the organisation then a potential solution is just to recruit more men into the lower paid jobs.

What about throwing age into the mix? If we take a snapshot of the workforce of say the 18-30 year olds then the pay gap actually favours women. Perhaps we could link that the high suicide rate of men in that age group? After the ages 30-32 then the pay gap flips the other way.

Pay is not about sex. Pay is about experience, ability and negotiation. Experience is easily measurable as is ability. One of the problems about experience though is that some people get pay rises based on time-served in a job. Take a year out to have a child and thus there is a year of direct experience missing, thus no pay increment. The third point is also important in workplaces that operate with a level of internal competition (like banks, PR firms and even high-end hairdressers). The deal making process for those jobs is not one that is governed by comparing job to job but something far less tangible.


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