Management and unions ‘have not thought enough’ about equality

The blame for women being paid less than men lies on the shoulders of both employers and unions, according to the head of the Women at Work Commission.

Speaking ahead of next week’s launch of the Commission’s investigation into the gender pay gap, Baroness Prosser said initiatives such as the NHS’s Agenda for Change had highlighted just how big pay differences could be, because considerations about equality had historically been ignored.

“If you look at what’s happened in the public sector, in the NHS and Agenda for Change, thousands of pounds have been paid out to women whose jobs have been traditionally undervalued,” Prosser said.

“Those jobs were jointly evaluated and graded by management and union, so somewhere along the line they have not thought enough about equality.”

Tony Blair will personally launch the Women and Work Commission report next week with the body’s chairwoman Baroness Prosser, Personnel Today recently revealed.

The Downing Street launch of the long-awaited report signals the government’s intention to carry out its recommendations for closing the gender pay gap. These include the appointment of ‘equality representatives’ at all medium and large employers.

Prosser, a former Labour party treasurer, is close to Blair and is understood to have won the support of trade secretary Alan Johnson and women’s minister Tessa Jowell. Whitehall sources said this meant the report would not be ignored in the same way as other papers, such as the Tomlinson report on education.

Prosser outlined her proposals to female ministers at a recent Westminster lunch, urging them to support her plans, which have been more than a year in the making.

The Commission has rejected proposals pushed by trade unions for mandatory pay audits.

The report will instead recommend a number of softer measures and draw up guidelines for companies.

One controversial proposal outlined in the report is the introduction of ‘class actions’. Although the report will not call outright for such litigation to go ahead – whereby a single individual can represent a whole series of people in court for a test case against an employer, as happens in the US – it will say that the issue “should be looked at further”.

The report, originally scheduled for publication before Christmas, was delayed by two months because of wrangling among members of Prosser’s Commission.

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