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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Womens' equal pay 'champions'
Woman in clothing factory
On average, women are paid 18% less than male colleagues
Equal pay "champions" who will work to close the pay gap between women and men are to be appointed by the government.

They will work with businesses to improve the lot of women in work by "spreading the word" about the importance of not discriminating against employees in a public campaign.

The government has ruled out legislation to close the 18% pay gap between men and women, preferring to work with industry on a voluntary basis.

But some campaigners feel that companies will fall into line only if they are forced by law to monitor their wage systems.


Equal pay for equal work is the objective

Tessa Jowell
Employment Minister
Research for the Equal Opportunities Commission suggests that British men earn on average nearly 116 more per week than their female colleagues.

But only a third of firms questioned had examined their pay structures to ensure women were paid the same rates as men.

Less than 20% of businesses surveyed used the EOC's code on equal pay, and many firms graded men's jobs above those of women.

And around 13% of female workers said they had been denied access to performance-related pay or work bonuses.

Unacceptable

Employment Minister Tessa Jowell said any difference in pay caused by discrimination was unacceptable.

Speaking at an Industrial Society seminar she said: "We believe that women's employment opportunities and closing the pay gap can now best be helped by making existing legislation work better and by taking forward a programme with employers to challenge the culture that sustains discrimination and unequal chances for women at work."

Earlier she told BBC News: "We have more women in work than ever before. But for every pound a man earns, a woman working in a broadly equivalent jobs gets 81 pence.

"We need to get to grips with the reasons for that."

Employment Minister Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell wants better pay for women workers
She has pledged to work with business and unions to improve opportunities for women.

"Equal pay for equal work is the objective," she said. "It has been a promise to women for 30 years, we have to deliver that."

Under the government plan, companies will be encouraged to conduct regular wage audits to make sure they are not paying their female workers less.

A grant will be given to the EOC to help encourage voluntary pay audits at work.

Progress will be reviewed every year and poor performers will be identified, Ms Jowell said.

Gap closing

The campaign will also aim to make all women aware of their rights at work, whether they are full or part-time.

A recent government poll suggested that awareness of existing rights was patchy.

The pay gap has come down in recent years, and the introduction of the minimum wage is widely considered to have helped to achieve this.

In 1979, women on average earned 36% less than men doing the same job.

Bhati Patel, chief executive of the low pay unit, welcomed the government's announcement.

"I think the government can do a lot," she told Today. "The national minimum wage has proved to be effective - 80% of the beneficiaries were women. But it is still not closing the gap fast enough."

The pay "champions" will include Margaret Prosser, deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, and Margaret Wall, national officer of the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Business
Action urged on pay gap
25 May 00 | UK
'Long delay for equal pay'
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