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UK: Gender pay gap is worst in Europe

EI affiliates in the UK have expressed their opinions following the publication of the Women and Work Commission’s ‘Shaping a Fairer Future’ report which found women earn only 83% of the male hourly rate.

The report found that the gender pay gap for full-time workers is 13%, and the gap between part-time women workers and full-time male workers is a staggering 41%. It offers a number of recommendations which aim to widen girls’ horizons in terms of the jobs they might want to do and to remove the barriers to them taking up a wider variety of options. Commenting on the report, Jerry Bartlett, Deputy General Secretary of NASUWT, said: "It is 30 years since equal pay legislation was introduced in the UK, yet on average full-time women workers earn only 83% of the male hourly rate. That is simply unacceptable. "NASUWT is aware of a strong body of evidence that suggests that the curriculum and career choices that girls and boys make are still founded on gender-based stereotypes and they impact on later employment choices and earning potential. "There is also an innate prejudice against women who return to work after pregnancy. Research has consistently shown that they do not get a fair chance to progress. Pressures of looking after a baby mean new mothers are more likely to want to reduce their working hours - and that means often having to accept a lower level occupation and lower pay. "The problem only grows when mothers look for career progression. NASUWT has plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows the perception of part-time workers by employers hinders the movement of women into leadership positions in schools and colleges. "Negotiations and casework by NASUWT have enabled the Union to make progress towards closing the gender gap for teachers, but there is still much work to be done." AUT general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "The report's recommendations should be welcomed, but the government, employers and unions have a duty to go much further. No more slow change - we need quick, effective action to help women currently at work, not just their daughters or granddaughters. "We still want regular statutory equal pay reviews so employers are unable to avoid the most effective tool to highlight and address pay inequality. The fact that the CBI has argued vigorously against this approach gives a clue as to how much it would help." Roger Kline, head of the universities department at NATFHE, was more sceptical of the report’s findings: "It is not simply differential pay for the same work which denies women fair rewards but the fact that men and women are too often on different contracts doing the same work. Part-time and hourly paid contracts are a key cause of pay discrimination in colleges and universities and nothing in this weak report will change this. It does not propose a single new legal requirement and naively ignores that most employers will not respond to mere pleas. I deplore the suggestion that equal pay audits should not be compulsory. "Unions should attack this discrimination. NATFHE will be using the Fixed Term Employees regulations, equal pay legislation and the recent Employment Tribunal decision in Birch versus Leeds Metropolitan University to eliminate the gender pay gap in further and higher education." The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, responded to the report by appointing the culture secretary and minister for women, Tessa Jowell, to produce an action plan to take up the recommendations.