Women effectively working for free until end of year

Britain’s gender pay gap will leave women effectively working for free from 9 November until the end of the year, according to equality campaigners.

This year, Equal Pay Day falls on this date, according to the Fawcett Society, which uses official statistics on hourly pay for full-time workers.

With the gender pay gap at 14.2 per cent, it falls just five days later than last year, and only two days later than in 2013. The fact that it repeatedly falls in early November reflects how little progress has been made in closing the gap in salaries for men and women, reports The Guardian.

The figure of 14.2 per cent reflects the pay gap for men and women working full time, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The figures are for 2014 – the latest available data – and are measured by average gross hourly pay. This compares to 15.7 per cent for the previous year.

Campaigners warn that, based on the tiny reduction in the pay gap last year, it would take 54 years to reach parity at current rates.

More than four decades after the Equal Pay Act was introduced, the divide remains across the workforce. Looking at all workers, in full- or part-time employment, the gender pay gap is 19.1 per cent. The UK figure compares with an EU average of 16.4 per cent.

Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “There has never been a better opportunity to close the pay gap for good. Progress has stalled in recent years but with real commitment from government and employers, together with action from women and men at work, we could speed up progress towards the day when we can consign it to history.”

David Cameron has vowed to “end the gender pay gap in a generation”, and set out new rules forcing every company that employs more than 250 people to publish the difference between the average pay of its male and female employees.

Among Britain’s top earners, the pay divide between men and women is nearly 55 per cent, according to the TUC. The top 2 per cent of male earners bring in more than £117,352 a year, while women get £75,745.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “These figures show that the glass ceiling is barely cracked, let alone broken. It is shocking the UK still has such large gender pay differences at the top of the labour market after more than four decades of equal pay and sex discrimination legislation. We need pay transparency, equal pay audits, and a requirement on companies to tackle gender inequality – or face fines.”

Both the TUC and the Fawcett Society believe the government must go further, calling for action plans for employers to close the pay gap in their workplace, as well as tough penalties for companies that fail to comply.

Other new recommendations, from the Virgin Money boss, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, who is leading a government-backed review, include linking the bonuses of City executives to hitting targets for the number of senior women appointed at a firm. Fewer women make it to the top in the financial sector than in any other industry.

Also last week, the former Conservative minister for women and equalities, Maria Miller, launched an inquiry by the women and equalities committee into government strategy on reducing the difference between what women and men are paid. She said that unequal pay mainly affected women over 40.

Meanwhile, according to new research, women are less likely to receive workplace training than men, and men are more likely than women to receive a pay rise following training. The study, published today by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, will say that women are usually given generic training, while companies pay for men to become better leaders. Women get paid 22 per cent less on apprenticeships than their male equivalents.

As more than 60 per cent of those earning less than the living wage are women, the Fawcett Society called on companies to become living wage employers. The charity welcomed the introduction of shared parental leave, but remained concerned that too few dads will be able to take it. There should be a dedicated period of leave for fathers and their paternity pay should be closer to what they otherwise would earn, it said.

Smethers added: “The message to women and men at work is – it’s OK to talk about pay. How can we achieve pay equality if we don’t even know what our colleagues earn?”

Fiona Aldridge, of NIACE, said: “Advancements in flexible working have helped to ensure that there are now a record number of women in work, but this flexibility is often accompanied by a hidden pay penalty: the hourly pay difference between full-time and part-time workers is currently 25%.”

Lord Mervyn Davies, who has been championing gender equality in the boardroom, said in a report last month that at least a third of directorships at Britain’s biggest companies should be held by women by the end of the decade, but stopped short of recommending legally enforceable quotas. Critics point out that women tend to be appointed to non-executive director roles, rather than more powerful roles on the executive board.

The UK ranks sixth in Europe in terms of female boardroom representation, behind Norway, Sweden, France, Finland and Belgium, many of which – such as Norway, where women make up 35% of board members – have set formal quotas for female representation.