Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Salary secrecy 'penalises women'

Woman and man using a laptop computer

A chronic lack of transparency over salary levels is perpetuating the gender pay gap, new research claims.

Nine out of ten women surveyed by the Equal Opportunities Commission said they would expect to be paid the same as a man with the same qualifications.

In fact, men earn on average 559 a month more than women before tax, according to the EOC.

The group believes greater openness over pay would help bring women's pay into line with their male peers'.

"Forget about sex, politics and religion, pay is the new taboo. In Britain today, the whole business of pay is shrouded in mystery," said EOC chairwoman Julie Mellor.

"Discrimination flourishes in this culture of secrecy when people cannot be sure they are rewarded fairly."

Pay education

Women on lower wages were more likely to be in the dark over the salary of their peers than higher earners, according to the EOC's research.

The gender pay gap*
Men working full-time: 27,300
Women working full-time: 20,592
Difference per year: 6,708
Difference per month: 559
*Difference between average full-time pay for men and women. Figures taken from New Earnings Survey, October 2003

Women were also more likely to be unaware of how much their colleagues earned than men.

The EOC has launched a new campaign to highlight the continued disparity between male and female pay.

On Wednesday morning, the body will hand out 10,000 mock pay slips, showing the 559 monthly deduction for being a woman, to commuters arriving for work in London, Glasgow and Manchester.

The EOC's pay gap calculation is based on the average full-time pay for men and women.

This excludes the fact that men are more likely to be in senior jobs and will automatically have higher salaries.

The more you know about other people's salaries the more likely it is to upset you
Ben, Yeovil, Somerset

Separately, the GMB trade union is calling for compulsory pay audits to make sure women are not being paid less than their male colleagues.

Karen Constantine, the union's equal rights officer said: "The veil of pay secrecy is one of the key factors in the continuing problem of unequal pay and it must be lifted so we can address this growing problem."

"There has been a marked lack of enthusiasm by employers to do so voluntarily, so compulsion is the only way forward."

Research by the GMB suggests that the gender pay gap is at its widest in London, Eastern England, the South East and South West.

Male and female pay are most closely aligned in the North East, Wales and Yorkshire, the research shows.

Pay gap by region*
London: 200 a week
Eastern and South East England: 145
South West: 120 a week
North West: 115 a week
West Midlands: 113 a week
Scotland: 111 a week
East Midlands: 109 a week
Yorkshire and the Humber: 103
Wales: 91 a week
North East: 90 a week
* Source: GMB
Right to know

It is against the law to pay women less than a man for the same or similar work, but it can be difficult for women to find out whether they are being treated fairly.

Women have the right to find out how much male colleagues are being paid for doing the same job.

Under new employment laws introduced in April last year, women can submit a questionnaire to their boss to try to establish whether they are being treated less favourably.

In practice, though, it can be difficult for women to make effective claims.

Refusing to fill in a questionnaire can count against an employer at an Employment Tribunal, but employers are not obliged to answer them.

video and audio news
The BBC's James Westhead
"The Equal Opportunities Commission says most women never even discover that they're losing out"

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