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Women’s pay: time for government action to close the gender pay gap

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Today is Women's Pay Day - a stark reminder that average women's pay in the UK is still significantly lower then average pay for men.

On Friday (8 March) International Women’s Day will be marked around the world. As women we’ve made some real strides towards equality in the workplace and in wider society and there is cause to celebrate.

However, it seems we’ve still got our work cut out when it comes to tackling the gender pay gap. New analysis published by the TUC today reveals that women effectively work for free for more than two months of the year.

The gender pay gap

The UK still has one of the worst gender pay gaps in Europe. Right now, the gender pay gap for all employees in the UK stands at 17.9%. This means that women work for free for the first 65 days of the year. They begin to get paid today.

So the TUC have branded today Women’s Pay Day – the day when the average woman starts getting paid compared to the average man.

Industrial gender pay gaps

The analysis – published today on the first day of the TUC’s annual women’s conference in London – shows that in a number of industries, even those dominated by female workers like education and social work, gender pay gaps are even bigger.

In these sectors women get paid much less on average than men, both because they are more likely to be in part-time jobs and because they are in lower paid roles.

In education the gender pay gap is currently 25.9%, so the average woman effectively works for free for more than a quarter of the year (95 days) and has to wait until the 4 April 2019 before she starts earning the same as the average man. And in information and communication, there’s a 77 day wait until Women’s Pay Day on 18 March 2019.

The longest wait for Women’s Pay Day comes in finance and insurance. Here the gender pay gap is the equivalent of 130 days, meaning it’s more than a third of the year before Women’s Pay Day finally kicks in on 10 May 2019.

Regional gender pay gaps

The analysis also shows that the gender pay gap is bigger in some parts of the country than others, making their Women’s Pay Day later.

For example, in the East of England the gender pay gap is 20.3%, so Women’s Pay Day in that part of the country won’t fall for another 9 days (Friday 15 March).

And women in the South East (19.3% pay gap) and the East Midlands (19.2%) have to wait until Monday (11 March) for their Women’s Pay Day.

These regional variations in the gender pay gap are likely to be caused by differences in the types of jobs and industries that are most common in that part of the country.

Gender pay gap reporting

So what can be done? In 2017, the government ruled that large companies have to publish information about the difference between average male and female earnings.

This is a start but it’s nowhere near enough. At current rates of progress, it’ll take 60 years for the gender pay gap to close. The government must go further unless we want to consign future generations of women to losing out on months of pay.

We have transparency around the size of pay gaps but not around what employers are actually doing to close them. This needs to change. Employers must be legally required to publish action plans alongside their pay gap data, explaining exactly what they are doing to close the pay gaps they’ve reported.

Other practical solutions

We also need to end the motherhood pay penalty, by challenging pregnancy discrimination, which sees 54,000 women being forced out of work every year, ensuring day one access to flexible working, creating more well-paid, high-skilled part-time jobs and giving dads better opportunities to share parental leave and work flexibly.

We need to tackle job segregation by getting more women into better paid jobs like engineering and finance.

And we also need to improve pay for “women’s work” by valuing important jobs done by predominantly female staff, like nursery nurses or carers, by increasing pay, progression and status.

I’d advise any woman worried about her pay to join her union. Workplaces that recognise unions are more likely to have family-friendly policies and fair pay.

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