Women workers are paying heavily for the Conservative government’s austerity policies as a report out today (Tuesday 22 March) confirms that, 40 years on from the equal pay act, action is still needed to tackle the UK’s gender pay gap.
According to the country’s biggest union, Unite, six years of cuts and the rising tide of insecure, low-paid work have ensured that women’s wages continue to drag behind those of men, confirmed by the cross-party report from MPs which says that with little progress over the past four years on shrinking the 19.2 per cent gender pay chasm. Six in ten minimum wage jobs are held by women.
Former Conservative minister, Maria Miller, chair of the committee that produced the report, calls upon the prime minister to do more to make good on his promise to close the pay gap.
Unite says that the report is an indictment of Conservative party policies because women disproportionately shoulder the burden of austerity.
The union is pressing for the urgent introduction of mandatory equal pay audits to expose the extent of gender pay discrimination across the economy, statutory rights for union equality reps, and protection for women against pregnancy discrimination with the removal of punishing tribunal costs.
The union is also calling for Sajid Javid, the minister with responsibility for employment rights, to publish the findings of a report into the shocking rise in the incidences of maternity discrimination.
Disturbingly, in the three years since the government increased employment tribunal fees payable by workers to £1,200, a shocking 54,000 women are sacked each year because they are pregnant, with evidence also mounting to show that pregnancy discrimination is a clear cause of gender pay discrimination.
Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary, laid the blame for the reversal in gender equality firmly at the feet of the Conservative government: “The UK has the fifth largest economy in the world, yet according to the World Economic Forum, we languish at a shameful 26th in the global rankings for gender pay equality.
“Why, 40 years after the equal pay act, will a woman in this country be paid 20p a pound less than her male equivalent? This is a ridiculous throwback to a dark age – it must be tackled, now.
“Of course, progress on gender pay parity has been made even tougher because of the explosion in low paid work with zero hours contracts and minimal employment rights, in addition to the public sector pay cuts that have been imposed as a result of the Conservative government’s dedication to never-ending austerity.
“Women are over-represented in these jobs so when their pay suffers, family and household income suffers too.
“But pay equality becomes even more urgent during austerity because every penny counts. Without progress on decent, secure jobs with transparent and fair pay, the important proposal to introduce mandatory pay gap reporting will just be measuring the gap.
“It is high time that the government took the issue of women’s wages seriously because when women are denied what they are owed, they and their families pay the price.
“This report recognises that what is needed is an industrial strategy, to ensure that action against pay inequality stretches from the boardroom to the shop floor. That is why equality reps must be given statutory recognition because unless we do so, gender wage equality will simply slip further out of reach.”
Siobhan Endean, Unite national officer for equalities, added: "In the UK we had been closing the gap but that has now stalled. Women still on average earn 19 per cent less than men, while among part-time workers the pay gap yawns to a staggering 38 per cent.
“This is very much not a case of us all 'in it together’. In addition to the fight for wage fairness, women face another fight because this government has destroyed ordinary workers’ access to employment tribunals.
“Some 54,000 women a year have been sacked because they are pregnant but they cannot get justice because they cannot find the £1,200 to start the tribunal process. These punishing costs are a barrier to justice – they must be removed, now.
“This must be brought out into the open, which is why we are calling on Sajid Javid to publish the report into maternity discrimination because this government must set out how it is going to restore basic rights to women workers.
“There is clear cause and effect: this government attacks workers’ rights and within months tens of thousands of women are sacked because they are pregnant. In Britain, in 2016, this is surely unacceptable.”
Unite’s women members are urging women workers to join a union as research shows that women’s pay can be up to 30 per cent higher when they have a union to represent them, and that having a union in a workplace can see the pay gap drop from 22 per cent in non-unionised workplaces to 6 per cent where a union is active.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.