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Dagenham to Westminster revisited

GlenysThornton.jpgGlenys Thornton on what’s set to be a historic day in the Lords for equal pay campaigners

Transparency in pay rates cannot come a moment too soon. It is shocking that in the UK in 2015, women are still earning just 80p to every pound that men earn. And according to the new figures based on the Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Incomes, the pay gap between men and women in their twenties has doubled since 2010 – up from 2.6% to 5.3%. It has also increased for women in their thirties, from 11.9% to 12%.

Take Heather, 27, who knows she is earning an average £6,000 less than her male colleagues. “I'm friends with the director's PA and when she was drunk she let slip the difference in pay. She was annoyed about the glaring inequality... and I'm absolutely furious. But what can I do when I'm not even meant to know.”

Heather’s not the only one. Shannon, 25, works in advertising and felt too insecure in her job to ask for a pay rise, despite knowing her male counterpart was earning more than her. To make matters worse, for an end of year bonus he was given £2,000 cash while she received a £100 Liberty's voucher.

Or Erin, 30, a lawyer who was asked to take a pay cut to avoid redundancy – only to find out none of her male colleagues had been asked to do the same. Meanwhile Amanda, 38, who works in media, was stunned with two of her male colleagues drunkenly boasted about their salaries, as she realised both were being paid an average £10,000 more despite having the same experience as her.

So say the readers of Grazia magazine who have been great in supporting a campaign on Equal Pay.

It is 46 years since the machinists walked out of Dagenham’s Ford plant in protest over the pay divide, which prompted the Equal Pay Act. Frankly, we can’t wait another 40 odd years for change.

Something that will push this issue along dramatically is transparency of pay rates by larger employers in the UK. We put the power to compel them to do this in the 2010 Equality Act, and said let’s monitor and bring into force if we don’t make enough progress. Under the Coalition, some small developments have occurred, but not nearly enough, and despite exhortation and encouragement a mere two companies actually publish their gender pay scales. So the amendment I’ve tabled to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill enacts Section 78 of the Equality Act within a year. 

Credit for our success must go to Gloria de Piero for her leadership in the Commons, Grazia, Unite, the TUC, the Fawcett Society, and both the cast of ‘Made in Dagenham’ and those who lives they portrayed for their relentless campaigning in recent months. The most exciting moment for me was meeting the Dagenham Women last December. I only wish we had had better news for them then then but after today’s business, let’s hope we can say we are absolutely on our way to delivering the equal pay they fought for all those years ago. 

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @GlenysThornton

Published 11th March 2015

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