Women at Work: a union perspective

Joint
general secretary of the finance union Unifi, Rory Murphy gives Personnel Today
the trade union side to the gender gap debate following the Government’s
announcement of a Women at Work Commission.

What
would you like to see the commission address?

The
biggest cause of the pay gap is occupational segregation so I would like the
[team] to look at the reasons for the undervaluing of women’s work and the
clustering of women in the lower grades of organisations.

 I would then like the committee to come up
with concrete plans on addressing these issues.

This
would involve improving rights and tightening the law. In particular, we need a
positive duty for the private sector to carry out equal pay audits and to
develop action plans and report on gender equality in company accounts.

Additionally,
the culture of organisations needs to change to encourage flexible working and
the flexible working regulations should be enhanced to cover all workers. It
should be a right to work flexibly not a right to ask. The Working Time
Regulations need to be better enforced and the opt-out should be removed.

How
much responsibility lies with the employer in areas of sexual discrimination?

The
employer has ultimate responsibility. It should not be fostering a culture of
sexual discrimination and should be promoting gender equality at all levels of
the organisation. Any acts of sexual discrimination should be dealt with firmly
via the disciplinary route. Sexual discrimination will not happen in a good
company – a proactive, not reactive set of policies is required.

What
is the biggest problem women face in the workplace?

It
is difficult to narrow it down to one issue. But if I have to go for one, then
I would say the ‘long-hours culture’, particularly at managerial grades. Women
often cannot work the long hours because of caring responsibilities so this
restricts their promotion opportunities.

“Men
working long hours cannot take a full enough role in parenting and domestic
duties so a vicious circle is established. We need to work on alleviating the
‘long-hours culture’ in the UK and persuade employers that managerial roles can
be done on a part-time or job-share basis.

Do
you think the Women at Work Commission will work, or is there a danger it is
being politically driven?

I
could be very cynical. We’ve had the Just Pay Report, the Kingsmill Report and
now another group to be set up looking at the issue. Lots of talk, but little
action.

It
would be nice to see some women (or men) on this group who really understand
the issues. Equal pay is a complicated subject that is going to need a number
of initiatives and changes in law to close the gender pay gap.

The
Women at Work Commission needs to understand what it is like to be poor and
socially excluded.  Its conclusion
should encompass an Action Plan that will finally end the insane imbalance
between men and women at work.

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