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NEW COMMISSION TO CHAMPION WOMEN IN WORK

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A Women and Work Commission will be created to examine the problem of the gender pay gap and other issues affecting...
A Women and Work Commission will be created to examine the problem of the gender pay gap and other issues affecting women's employment.

The commission will look at:

* how men's and women's education and skills affect which jobs they

can get

* promotion and career progression - the 'glass ceiling'

* women's experiences in the job market before and after having

children

* the different experiences of women working full-time and part-time

The gender pay gap currently stands at 18% for full-time workers and

40% for part-time workers.

Trade and industry secretary and cabinet minister for women Patricia

Hewitt said:

'The gender pay gap has fallen from a high of 30% in the 1970s and

the employment prospects of women have rocketed in the past 30 years

- but persistent differences in men and women's experience of the

labour market remain.

'Making progress on the gender pay gap is a key priority because we

have to draw on the skills and talents of all potential workers - men

and women. Women have the right to expect a fair deal in the labour

market.'

The Women and Work Commission will be chaired by Margaret

Prosser and will begin its work in autumn 2004, reporting to the

prime minister within 12 months. It will make recommendations on

what the government can do to reduce the pay gap and give women fair

opportunities at work.

Full membership of the commission will be announced in autumn and

will encompass men and women from both sides of the social

partnership, education experts, and others from a range of

backgrounds.

The government is already working to tackle the causes of the pay gap

in various ways:

* Leading by example - by encouraging large organisations to do equal

pay audits and funding the Equal Opportunities Commission to carry

out this work. The government has also led by example, requiring

every department to carry out its own equal pay review. Recent EOC

figures show that by the end of 2005, 45% of large organisations will

have carried out or begun equal pay reviews.

* Tackling low pay - Three quarters of a million women benefit each

year from the National Minimum Wage, which has contributed to a 2%

drop in the pay gap since 1997.

* Making it easier for women to get equal pay - the government is

simplifying existing procedures for tribunals for women who have

suffered discrimination. It has also introduced a questionnaire

procedure so that women can find out if they are being paid fairly in

line with male colleagues.

* New flexible working rights - so that mothers who want to work

after having children can. The right was introduced in April 2003,

and since then almost 4 in 10 eligible mothers have requested some

form of flexible working arrangement, with employers accepting 8 in

10 requests.

* Providing childcare - since 1997 the National Childcare Strategy

has created over 700,000 new childcare places benefiting over 1.2

million children. The government is on track to meet its target of

creating 1.6 million places in England to help two million children by

2006.

The DTI is also set to review maternity, paternity and flexible

working legislation in 2006, taking account of how parents and other

workers juggle work and caring responsibilities. Government

ministers from various departments have been holding round table

discussions with bosses, parents and other employees to talk about

how they are affected by the current flexible working rights.

Notes

1. The DTI's Women and Equality Unit has published an easy to

understand guide to equal pay and the causes of the pay gap. It is

available online at www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/pay/pay.htm

2. The gender pay gap is defined as the percentage difference in

hourly earnings between the average (median) women's and men's

earnings. The most recent figures, published by the Office of

National Statistics, show that the gap for full-time workers is 18%,

and the gap between part-time women workers and full-time male

workers is 40%.

For more details and historical data on the pay gap, see

www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/research/factsheets/equal_pay_nov_2003.doc.

3. Margaret Prosser is currently chair of the Women's National

Commission, the official, independent, advisory body giving the views

of women to the government. For more information about the WNC see

www.thewnc.org.uk

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