Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Gender pay gap 'still too wide'

Office worker. File photo
The Fawcett Society has called for pay audits to expose any disparities

More needs to be done by the government to bridge the gender pay gap, women's rights campaigners have said.

The majority of 1,004 adults surveyed in Britain for the Fawcett Society urged ministers not to alter existing pledges amid the economic downturn.

It said data showing women earned 17% less on average meant they would be working for free for the rest of 2008.

The government said the Equality Bill would increase transparency in firms which is "key" to tackling the gap.

Ipsos Mori interviewed 1,004 adults in October for the Fawcett Society and public sector union Unison.

According to the survey, 85% of men and 93% of women said the government needs to do more to ensure women are paid the same as men for doing jobs that require the same or similar levels of skill.

Some 83% of women and 74% of men told the survey that pay differences must be closed regardless of the credit crunch.

The society is urging ministers to stick to commitments to make pay equal and not "backslide" amid the current economic downturn.

It said there was strong support for Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to include provisions in the Equality Bill to require companies to hold pay audits to expose any disparities between men and women's wages.

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, said: "In times of economic difficulty, voters want greater support for equal pay measures, not backsliding.

We are working with business, unions and others to make the private sector more transparent on gender pay
Harriet Harman
Minister for women and equality

"After all, according to the government's own figures, unlocking women's economic potential could contribute up to an astonishing 2% of GDP."

The Public and Commercial Services union is to brief MPs later on the pay inequality it says exists between the women and men in similar jobs in government transport departments.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said the Equality Bill would see more action being done to narrow the gap.

Ms Harman said: "We will ban 'secrecy clauses' - which exist in a quarter of workplaces - and make public authorities report on gender pay.

"We will drive equality in the private sector through public procurement, and we are working with business, unions and others to make the private sector more transparent on gender pay."

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