Female workers in the UK are earning an average of 27% less than their male colleagues – a 3% increase on the previous year – according to a study by salary comparison website Payfinder.com.
The report was compiled from salary data by registrants to the website from August 2004 to August 2005. Last year’s report, identifying the gender divide for 2004, showed that men earned an average of 24% more.
The findings have prompted a renewed call by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) for mandatory equal pay audits. It wants the government to change the law to require employers to check the pay gap in their workforce and take action to address it. But there is little support elsewhere for such a move.
When the Women and Work Commission – set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to investigate the gender pay gap – published its interim report in March this year, it confirmed it would consider recommending the introduction of mandatory pay reviews.
The commission argued that radical measures were needed to plug the pay gap, which is more than 40% for part-time workers and, according to government figures, 18% for full-time staff.
However, employers and unions are critical of the proposals.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said it would not support mandatory reviews as it would entrench the attitude among employers that they are about fulfilling minimum requirements.
The CBI said that while pay audits were good for internal checks, employers should be focusing on the root causes of inequality, including social factors such as educational choices and careers advice that women are given before they enter the labour market.
Even Amicus, the UK’s biggest private sector union, said that while it supported pay audits in principle, there needed to be changes in legislation to allow class actions in cases of pay discrimination.
The lack of progress on tackling the pay gap has led some experts to question whether any headway will ever be made.
Julie Mellor, former chair of the EOC, admitted to Personnel Today in July that she was unsure whether the gender pay gap would ever fall to zero.
But a spokeswoman for the EOC defended the commission’s role in tackling the pay gap. She said the EOC had “secured a duty” on the public sector to tackle pay discrimination as part of the Equalities Bill, due to come into force late next year.
The commission also has high hopes for the Women and Work Commission’s final report, due out this autumn. “We would really like to see it pushing the government on equal pay reviews,” the spokeswoman said.
Employers will hope that the EOC doesn’t get its wish. Earlier this year, a trade and industry select committee looking at the issue shied away from recommending mandatory pay audits. Its recommendations are likely to influence any government policy.
The gender pay gap conference
Tackling the difference in pay between men and women
A one-day conference for HR professionals
10 November 2005, London
Leading experts will analyse why women get paid less than men – and what your organisation can do to bridge the gender pay gap.
Topics will include:
- Role of women in UK economy
- How to conduct an equal pay review
- The latest legal developments in equal pay.
For more information and to book, visit http://www.conferencesandtraining.com/paygap