By Daniel Hunter
Women working full-time still earn almost £5,000 a year less than men, though the pay gap in some jobs is three times bigger, according to a TUC analysis of official figures published to mark Equal Pay Day.
Equal Pay Day marks the point at which women working full-time effectively stop earning as they are paid 15 per cent less per hour than men working full-time. But in certain professions the gender pay gap is much wider, says the TUC.
According to the research, female health professionals have the biggest pay gap at 31 per cent, which works out at £16,000 a year. A key reason for the size of the pay gap in health is the earnings of the best-paid professionals. Top male professionals in health earn nearly £50 an hour, twice as much as top earning women who earn £24.67 an hour.
Women working in culture, media and sport experience the next biggest pay gap at 27.5 per cent - which works out at £10,000 a year - while women working in manufacturing occupations earn nearly 24 per cent less than men.
Women earn less than men in 32 of the 35 major occupations classified by the Office for National Statistics. The three major occupations where women earn more than men - transport drivers, electricians and agricultural workers - are all male dominated. Fewer than 50,000 women are employed in these sectors, compared to 1.5 million men.
The gender pay gap across the private sector is 19.9 per cent, far higher than the 13.6 per cent pay gap in the public sector.
The gender pay gap is even bigger for women working part-time, who earn 35 per cent less per hour than men working full-time. Equal Pay Day for women working part-time was back on 27 August.
The TUC believes that as four decades of equal pay legislation have only halved - rather than eradicated - the gender pay gap, a tougher approach is needed to stop millions of workers losing out on pay and career opportunities, simply because of their gender.
One of the reasons for the gender pay gap is the lack of transparency in pay systems that allow companies to pay female employees less than their male colleagues, without staff even being aware of it, says the TUC. Publishing annual gender pay gap information and conducting regular pay audits would enable companies to identify any gender pay gaps, and take action to close them.
However, with just one in 100 companies voluntarily publishing equal pay information, the TUC wants the government to legislate and make audits compulsory additions to annual company reports.
More senior level part-time jobs are also needed to help women continue their careers after having children, says the TUC. Too many women are forced to trade down their jobs and abandon their careers just to find working hours that can fit around their childcare arrangements.
The TUC wants the government to boost the availability of more senior part-time jobs by encouraging employers to advertise all jobs on a flexible basis where possible. Ministers could take the initiative by making it a requirement for all public sector job vacancies, says the TUC.
The government should also strengthen the right to request flexible working by removing the six month qualifying period and making it available to employees on the day they start a new job.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It is a huge injustice that women are still earning on average almost £5,000 a year less than men. This pay gap can add up to hundreds of thousands over the course of a woman's career.
"The gender pay gap, which continues despite decades of girls outperforming boys at school and university, is also a huge economic failure. It is crazy that employers are missing out on billions of pounds worth of women's talent, skills and experience every year.
"Four decades on from the Equal Pay Act, it's clear we need to take a tougher approach so that future generations of women don't suffer the same penalties.
"One simple way would be to force companies to be more transparent about how they pay staff. Pay transparency and pay audits would give employers the evidence they need to finally take closing the pay gap seriously."
Charlie Woodworth of the Fawcett Society said: "It is scandalous that in modern Britain women can expect to take home just 85p for every pound men earn. The persistent gap in pay shows just how far we still have to go when it comes to achieving equality between the sexes.
"In recent years, progress on closing the gap has begun to slow. As austerity continues to bite we now face the very real danger that the gap will widen, as more and more women find themselves forced out of the public sector and onto the dole or into the private sector workforce - where the pay gap stands at 20 per cent.
"The labour market is experiencing dramatic change, and women are bearing the brunt of cuts to jobs. If the government doesn't address this growing problem, we risk returning to a much more male-dominated workforce, with record numbers of women unemployed, those in work typically earning less, and the gap in pay between women and men beginning to grow instead of shrink."
Emma Stewart, co-founder of the Timewise Foundation, says: "At present many mothers - and increasing numbers of fathers - feel they have no choice but to 'trade down' because of their need for flexibility and accept low paying part-time jobs, with little opportunity to progress.
"The good news is that there is a solution, and it's right in front of us. More employers should be encouraged to advertise their good quality, part-time jobs, on the open market.
"A number of trailblazing employers, both large and small, are already beginning to open up their vacancies to the wider market, and 'think part time' before designing a new role. They benefit by attracting and retaining incredible talent. The more we publicise the actions of such employers, and talk about successful part-time working arrangements, the better."
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