Some 40 years after the Equal Pay Act came into force women still on average earn 19 per cent less than men; among part-time workers, the gap yawns to 38 per cent. One in four women are in low-paid or insecure work and women continue to be concentrated in the five Cs (catering, cleaning, caring, cashiering and clerical) – valuable jobs that deserve higher pay and more respect. But these sectors are scarred by the rise in more insecure, precarious working with agency working, temporary, zero and short-hours contracts. These types of working make it hard to calculate what earnings will be and to arrange childcare.
Yet the Trade Union Bill imposes significant restrictions on workers ability to organise collectively and improve their pay and working conditions. For women this has real consequences – the Government’s own Work-Life Balance Employer Survey demonstrated that compared to non-unionised workplaces a substantially higher percentage of unionised workplaces had written policies on flexible working, offering the full range of flexible working practices, enhanced maternity pay, support for women returning to work from maternity leave.
The Government’s own figures show higher pay is associated with unionised workplaces – the difference in pay for trade union members is 16 per cent higher across all employees and 30 per cent for women. As a result, the Women’s Budget Group has stated: “Trade unions have a crucial role to play in defending women’s rights in the workplace and bargaining for equality”. And the British Pregnancy Advisory Service noted the research by the Equality and Human Rights on pregnancy discrimination, saying that:
“Around one in nine mothers (11 per cent) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year… It is clear that despite legislation designed to protect them, pregnant women and new mothers can find their rights at work threatened and may need support of their trade union to ensure they are able to secure financial stability for their family”.
In an already unequal labour market where women have fought hard to get to where we are, any attempt to throw that progress into reverse must be resisted in our continued drive for equality. It is about women being able to build a successful society where all women can fulfil their potential, free from societal discrimination and violence – where choices and life chances are not determined by gender.
Cat Smith MP
Junior Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities
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