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Why is the pay gap between men and women still so wide?

The Glasgow female workers strike highlights how pay inequality remains rampant, 50 years after the Equal Pay Act became law, says PAUL DONOVAN

SOME 8,000 female workers recently went out on a 48-hour strike in Glasgow over equal pay.

The long-running dispute between the GMB and Unison-represented workers and Glasgow City Council (GCC) concerns the women being paid in some cases £3 an hour less than their male counterparts.

The strike involved more than 2,000 GMB members who provided round the clock home care for 87,000 service users, as well as cleaning and catering services for schools and amenities across the city.

The council adopted the Workforce Pay and Benefit Review (WPBR), implementing its job evaluation-based pay and grading system in 2006 with the intention of making sure men and women got equal pay for jobs of the same value. 

It is believed that up to 12,000 workers have longstanding claims going back to that time. The final bill for GCC is likely to cost millions to settle. 

In May 2017, the Court of Session ruled the WPBR discriminated against female workers.

The council decided it would not appeal the decision of the court and would commit to settling the outstanding equal pay claims and bringing in a new system. 

Last January, the council said that it wanted to settle the dispute by negotiations. But since then there has been little progress, resulting in the GMB and Unison moving to take industrial action. 

The Glasgow strike, though, is but part of a larger picture of pay inequality across the industrial terrain. Female staff at the BBC have complained about being paid substantially less than their male colleagues. 

Although there has been some closing of the gender pay gap over the past 12 months, a large differential remains at the corporation.

The looming question remains why, 50 years after the famous women’s equal pay strike at the Ford Dagenham plant, does the disparity continue. 

In the Ford case, the women originally went on strike over grading but managed to get a deal that saw their pay close to 92 per cent of men’s pay from 85 per cent. They did not secure the regrading until 1984, after another strike.

The Ford strike is widely seen as one of the spurs to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. This stated that men and women were entitled to equal pay. 

It allowed claims for similar jobs, or jobs that were different but which the employer had rated as needing similar skill or effort and had put on the same grade.

Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics shows the gender pay gap for median earnings at 17.9 per cent for 2018, a reduction of 0.5 per cent on the previous year. 

The gender pay gap for full-time employment is 8.6 per cent. The gap between the two figures is due to over five million underpaid female part-time employees not being included among the full-time figures.

The disparity in pay, though, does seem to vary, according to age, with women earning just 1.3 per cent less than men in the 22 to 29 age group, but the gap grows to 15.5 per cent in the 50 to 59 age group.

The pay gap remains due to a number of factors, including blatant discrimination, heavy representation of women in caring and a disproportionate representation in lower-paid jobs like cleaning and catering.

Women are being effectively penalised for the greater role they play in bringing up families, which often forces them into low-paid, part-time work. 

There are moves being made to improve the situation such as the duty now placed on companies of 250-plus employees to publish details of male and female pay, but more is needed. 

The TUC has said that at the present rate of progress, it will take 55 years to reach pay parity across generations. 

“The government needs to crank up the pressure on employers. Companies shouldn’t just be made to publish their gender pay gaps, they should be legally required to explain how they’ll close them. And bosses who flout the law should be fined,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

Stronger trade unions in the workplace would also help close the gender gap, giving women the back-up needed to oppose discrimination and claim fair pay. 

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