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Despite 20 years of equal pay legislation, women are still paid on an hourly average 20% less than men, announced t...
Despite 20 years of equal pay legislation, women are still paid on an hourly average 20% less than men, announced the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today.

Speaking at the introduction of a new draft Code of Practice on Equal Pay (1), the first of its kind developed by a member state in Europe, EOC chairwoman Kamlesh Bahl said:

'There can never be real equality of opportunity between the sexes when such pervasive pay distinctions exist. The pay gap is the biggest barrier to equality between women and men and is widespread and deep seated. Throughout their working lives, women earn less than men, whether they are board directors or sales assistants.'

Today the EOC is taking a signficant step to help employers bridge the pay inequality gap. A draft Code of Practice on Equal Pay is being laid before parliament by education and employment secretary Gillian Shephard.

Commenting on the new code, Mrs Shephard said:

'The government fully supports the Equal Opportunities Commission's commitment to promoting equal pay between men and women. We welcome every effort to highlight problems of unequal pay.

'The code will provide valuable guidance and encourage employers, whether small or large, to adopt good working practices.'

A lifecycle of inequality

In her early 20's a woman earns 91% of a man's hourly pay. In her 30's this falls to 87%, in her 40's to 75% and in her 50's to only 72%. The picture is worse for female part-time workers who earn less than 50% of the pay of men in full-time employment.

The causes

There is still a marked division in the type of work done by men and women.

'The major problem,' said Kamlesh Bahl, 'is the entrenched attitude that the work done by women is of lesser value than that done by men. They can be doing a job that takes just as much skill and ability but social, economic and cultural attitudes have conspired to undervalue the tasks done by women.'

Women have less opportunity to increase their pay packets through earning overtime, shift payments or bonuses. The situation is even worse for part-time workers, the majority of whom are female and low paid.

New Draft Code on Equal Pay

The code provides practical guidance and good practice recommendations, explaining the law and the causes relating to pay inequality. It also provides a step-by-step process for detecting and addressing pay discrepancies and will be an invaluable tool for all employees.

The code is expected to be launched at the beginning of 1997 when it will become admissable as evidence in tribunal proceedings.

Business Case for Pay Equality

There is a strong business case for employers to follow an equal pay policy and the draft code received an enthusiastic welcome by a number of business leaders during the consultation period. The benefits of a transparent and non-discriminatory pay system include improved employee morale and motivation, reduced staff turnover and improved productivity. as well as the avoidance of costly and disruptive industrial tribunal proceedings.

'Pay must now be built into the heart of every equal opportunity policy and practice' said Kamlesh Bahl.

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