Women still struggle to gain equality

While women in the UK still continue to win equal pay cases, with a major ruling being handed down in September 1997, new figures from the Equal Opportunities Commission indicate that they still have a long way to go to catch up with men.

In September 1997, four women won what has been described as a landmark victory in achieving equal pay for work of equal value, ensuring that their pay as nursery nurses is the same as men employed by the same county council (Gloucestershire) working as technicians. The women, who care for children with special needs, claimed that their salaries were in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, arguing that their jobs entailed similar work and qualifications to the male technicians, who were paid up to 25% more than themselves. An industrial tribunal rejected the council's argument that the pay gap was entirely due to extra hours worked. The county council, which employs 860 women as nursery nurses, is to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the implications of the ruling.

The ruling is likely to have a large impact, but despite this and recent similar cases (UK9704121N) women are making slow progress in achieving equality with men, according to latest statistics issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in September. The figures show that, while women make up 51% of the population and 45% of those in paid work, they are underrepresented in certain top occupations - as the table below highlights - and receive, on average, lower pay.

Women in top occupations
Occupation Percentage of women in occupation
Managers and administrators 33
Police sergeants 6
Legal partners 15
Judiciary 10
Members of Parliament 18
Public appointments 31

Source: EOC

It is nearly 30 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970 but women working full time still earn only 80% of the average men's hourly wage. Although this represents a narrowing of the gap, it has reduced by only 7% in the last 20 years, and women still have the additional role of doing an average of nine hours per week of unpaid housework.

Kamlesh Bahl, the EOC chair, said: "These figures show that women are becoming more visible, but there is no cause for complacency about their progress towards equality". The EOC intends to update the figures annually to determine exactly what the facts are, and how far the UK is going down the road to equality.

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