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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Women still paid less than men
Male and Female money graphic
On average for every 1.00 a man earns a woman gets only 82p
By the BBC's business reporter, Marcia Hughes.

Thirty years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still getting paid less than men - resulting in a financial deficit that could add up to as much as 250,000 over a lifetime.

On average, for every 1.00 a man earns, a woman gets only 82p across both the public and private sectors.

The government has appointed Denise Kingsmill, the deputy chairman of the Competition Commission, to lead an inquiry into equal pay and suggest practical solutions to the pay gap.

Her initial findings show there are few environments where women feel they cannot compete equally, but when it comes to pay the odds are still weighed against them.

In the banking and insurance sector, for example, male pay averages approximately 18 per hour, whereas women receive just under 10.50.

Tribunals too slow

Critics say this is just unacceptable and want the law to have more muscle.

They point to the length of time it takes for cases to be settled, often up to two years.

Female worker
30 years since the Equal Pay Act, women are still getting paid less than men

With the help of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Sarah Daly successfully took her former employer to a tribunal, after she realised she was being paid 4,000 less than a male colleague doing the same job.

But it took 18 months for her case to settled out of court.

"You've got to be quite confident. It was the anger that kept me going because you have to be quite sure you want an answer from them - because they can argue all sorts of irrelevant reasons for why you get paid the amount you do," explained Sarah Daly.

Pay audits might help

The government has so far not wanted to make pay audits statutory, but one trade union in particular is seeking to strengthen implementation of the Equal Pay Act through the use of audits.

The Transport & General Workers Union is pressing all companies where they represent members to review pay structures thoroughly to stop any wage inequality.

"If you have a system whereby people are all quite clear about the grading structure and what you need to do to be able to move up grades etc., then there is a transparency about that which enables people to see exactly where they stand within the structure, " says Margaret Prosser, T&G deputy general secretary.

The union hopes these kind of "pay audits" will force businesses to take the gender pay gap seriously.

If not, then perhaps the threat of being taken to an employment tribunal for refusing to equalise wage rates might be enough to make companies sit up and listen.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Marcia Hughes reports
"When it comes to pay the odds are still weighed against women."
Denise Kingsmill, the Competition Commission
"The big companies are clear that they have to do these voluntary equal pay audits..."
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