In news that will surprise almost no one, the country’s most comprehensive data collection on pay by gender has shown that men are paid more than women.
The figures show men are paid more than women in 7,795 out of 10,016 companies and public sector organisations in Britain, in terms of median hourly pay.
No sector pays women more. Men are also paid higher bonuses than women.
Though there are cases where women are paid less for the same job, this is not the cause of the gender pay gap. Many low-paid jobs are predominantly done by women, particularly in the caring and service sectors. High paid, professional and managerial jobs are dominated by men. A similar employment pattern explains the less-talked-about race pay gap.
There are immediate measures which would encourage sharing of childcare and reduce the “tax” on women for their greater share of domestic work. Parental leave at full pay should be offered to all parents for at least the first twelve months.
This would encourage a greater sharing of the work of looking after babies and toddlers and normalise breaks in people’s working lives, so as not to disproportionately affect women’s progression at work. Free universal child care should be extended.
A vastly reduced working week for all workers would free up time for everyone to share the burden and joy of caring for others.
The simplest way to reduce gender (or race) pay inequality is to reduce pay inequality in its entirety. Raising minimum wages and setting maximum wages would of course shrink the gap.
Theresa May has boasted that the national gender pay gap is at a historic low. This is in part due to equality measures but also reflects a trend toward more precarious, worse-paid work for working class men.
Women on low pay have nothing to gain from equality of poverty and crap jobs. The Labour Party should commit to raise the minimum wage to a real living wage for all workers. We should revisit Corbyn’s offhand remark last year that there should be “some kind of high earnings cap” whether linking the legal minimum and maximum wages or through massive taxation on high earners.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said on the gender pay gap:
“Nearly 50 years since the Ford machinists went on strike at Dagenham, the UK still has one of the worst gender pay gaps in Europe. Women effectively work for free for two months a year. Companies publishing information on their gender pay gaps is a small step in the right direction but it’s nowhere near enough. Women in the UK will only start to get paid properly when we have better-paid part-time and flexible jobs. And higher wages in key sectors like social care.
“Workplaces that recognise unions are more likely to have family friendly policies and fair pay. So a good first step for women worried about their pay is to join a union.”
A good first step for the union movement she heads would be unionisation drives and organisation in low-paid industries. Being in a union is not enough to guarantee higher pay: unions must organise those workers to fight collectively for higher wages.
We have seen brilliant examples of low-paid workers leading fights for higher wages at Picturehouse Cinemas, McDonalds and in universities.
The labour movement must throw its full weight behind these struggles to ensure they win, and look to replicate them across the low-pay economy.