THE women of the Transport and General Workers’ Union at Ford Dagenham got up from their machines and marched for equal pay 48 years ago.
Now they are supporting a campaign to deliver on the promises that were made by Barbara Castle and this Parliament when we passed the Equal Pay Act 1970. I am ashamed to say that 48 years on from that historic strike and 44 years since the Act was passed, equal pay is still no more than a promise.
Women in Britain earn, on average, just 81p for every £1 earned by men. In my constituency of Rotherham, women earn just 77p for every male pound. Over a lifetime, that means women miss out on a staggering £200,000 – enough to buy a house outright.
Young women in their 20s, who the Government like to claim do not face the problem of the gender pay gap, get paid an average of £1,570 less a year than their male peers. In 10 years, that amount will buy them a car or pay for a deposit on a house. It is a life-changing amount that young women are denied.
It is not just women who are poorer because of the pay gap; it is their families too. Equal pay is an issue for all of us. No father, husband or son wants the woman they care about to work in a world where they are valued less for being a woman. The Government may claim that there is no need to worry and that the gender pay gap is falling, but I would hardly call a small fall last year, after a widening gap the year before, a victory. It is true that the last Labour Government closed the pay gap by almost a third, but even that progress is too slow. Women should not have to wait another 44 years for the gap to disappear.
Birmingham City Council and, more recently, Asda demonstrated that pay inequality – being paid less as a woman for doing work that is of equal value and demands equal or even higher skills – is still a factor for women across the UK. We have progressed from the days when jobs would be advertised with one hourly rate for men and another for women, but that does not mean that the biases do not continue – they are just more subtle. According to the Chartered Management Institute, the average man’s bonus is £11,000 more than a woman’s.
The inequality becomes self-perpetuating. Men who have earned more in one job enter at a higher salary than women doing the same job who are already employed. That is justified not by performance, seniority or skill, but by the realities of recruitment.
All I am asking for is equal pay for equal work. Whether on the shop floor or the trading floor, that principle is as relevant now as it was back when the women of Dagenham marched.
Pay transparency – the simple act of a company publishing its gender pay gap – would mean that these differences were public for all to see. Why should the burden be on women to investigate pay inequality and to ask their colleagues how much they earn? How can we expect women to call out their employer if they do not even have access to the evidence? We should not have to wait for whistleblowers. We need to empower women to use the equal pay laws that are already in place.
Of course, the pay gap is not only about how much workers in the same job are paid. It is about equal reward for equal work. It is about valuing people’s skills and experiences equally, regardless of their sex, whether they are a parent or have just returned from maternity leave, and whether they are working part-time, flexi-time or full-time. It means not only being paid for the job that they do, rather than the person they are, but being able to expect that if they do a good job, they will be promoted; that they can keep progressing in their career; and that reaching the highest-paid role is possible.
This is not about naming and shaming, about telling companies what to do or about micro-managing them; it is simply about changing the emphasis.
This is not a vast new administrative burden on employers. It would apply only to employers of over 250 employees, and would be as simple as publishing the information in the companies’ annual reports. What it will do is focus minds. Businesses that already publish their figures tell us as much. The insurer Friends Life says that it publishes its pay gap by each pay grade for two key reasons: one is trust and the second builds on the old adage ‘what gets measured, gets managed’.
Parliament has the opportunity to take a big step closer to making good on the promise of equal pay, which was fought for and won by the women of Ford Dagenham 48 years ago. MPs of all parties must listen to the voices of women up and down the country and support pay transparency today.