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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Follett urges equal pay 'decency'
Barbara Follett and Gordon Brown
Barbara Follett wants to push pay equality up the agenda
Ensuring equal pay for women is not about "political correctness" but "common decency", Women's minister Barbara Follett has insisted.

Apart from making it illegal to pay women less, the government needs to change the mindset of firms who believe they can get round it, she said.

Women are paid just 83% of men's wages, equivalent to being paid until 30 October each year.

The Conservatives say they are also determined to close the pay gap.

During a fringe meeting organised by Unison at Labour's conference in Bournemouth, Ms Follett said the government needed to grab back the agenda on equal pay from the tabloid newspapers.

'Common courtesy'

"What we are talking about here today is not political correctness, it's common decency. It's commonsense," she said.

"It's common courtesy and it's back to basics and we have got to grab that back from the red tops."

Ms Follett said she could not make any policy commitments, but she and Equalities Secretary Harriet Harman were looking at how to change the workplace culture of unequal pay.

"We have got to stop them thinking 'we'll get round this'. Governments can make this illegal - we have got to make it a fairly hostile climate," she said.

Ministers are currently looking at how age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and religion can be brought together into a set of laws - the Single Equality Bill.

'Pay audit'

Dr Katherine Rake, director of equality campaigners, the Fawcett Society, said both Labour and the Conservatives had to compete for political ground when it comes to closing the gender pay gap.

She said for the first time her cross-party organisation had been in talks with the Tories, who had "put flexible working right at the heart of the political agenda".

Under Conservative plans, firms who lose wages tribunals will be forced to carry out a "pay audit" of all their staff to put an end to sex discrimination at work.

Shadow women's minister Theresa May said the problem with the current law is that tribunals heard cases individually.

That meant firms found guilty of discrimination are not forced to do anything for other female employees.

Sex discrimination cases more than doubled between 2005 and 2006, to more than 44,000 - largely in local authorities and the NHS - and there is still a backlog of thousands more

The Fawcett Society will be highlighting the pay gap with a series of events on 30 October, which it has dubbed "Women's No Pay Day".

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