Commission proposes measures to tackle gender pay gap

In February 2006, the government-appointed Women and Work Commission published a report setting out recommendations for combating job segregation and the gender pay gap. Although trade unions welcomed its recommendations, they criticised the report for not proposing mandatory equal pay reviews.

On 27 February, the Women and Work Commission, set up by the UK Prime Minister in 2004, published a report, Shaping a fairer future (1Mb pdf), which sets out 40 recommendations to tackle job segregation and the gender pay gap (UK0402104F). The independent commission was chaired by Baroness Margaret Prosser, a former senior official of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), while members were drawn from a range of constituencies including companies, employer organisations, trade unions, public sector bodies and charities.

The commission’s report highlights the gender segregation in the labour market whereby women are concentrated in five occupational groups – ‘the caring, cashier, clerical, cleaning and catering sectors’. It also underlines the gender pay gap of over 17% (based on full-time employees’ average hourly earnings) that still persists despite the 30-year existence of equal pay legislation.


Among its recommendations, the commission called for:

  • a GBP 20 million (€29 million) government-funded programme to enable adult women to improve their skill sets;
  • a new vocational curriculum to encourage girls to consider non-traditional jobs;
  • the promotion of apprenticeships for women, especially in sectors with skill shortages;
  • an initiative to promote quality part-time work – in particular, the commission wants the government to encourage private sector employers to open senior jobs to part-time and flexible working time arrangements in order to help working mothers;
  • support for the training and development of workplace equality representatives;
  • extending the right to request flexible working to cover a wider group of employees;
  • better management training in diversity and flexibility issues;
  • the use of clauses in public sector contracts to promote effective equal pay and gender equality action by private contractors;
  • a network of best practice companies that conduct equal pay reviews, provide work experience for girls in non-traditional jobs, and set up women’s networks in senior or traditionally male jobs.

Need for further action and working together

Commenting on the commission’s report, Baroness Prosser stated that: ‘We all recognise that the gender pay gap is complex and multi-faceted. There is no one solution. We need action that starts from the early days in school and continues through all stages of a woman’s working life to tackle the culture that puts women at a disadvantage’.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) takes the view that the commission’s recommendations to overcome occupational segregation – which the CBI sees as a major cause of the pay gap – will ‘require educators and employers to work together to revolutionise career advice and work experience’. CBI deputy director-general John Cridland, who was a member of the commission, also emphasised that women’s childcare responsibilities are ‘the key cause’ of the pay gap: ‘Employers welcome the report’s recommendations to ensure that part-time work is not seen as a second class option and to give women returners the training they need to access better paid jobs.’

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), believes that: ‘Today’s report presents a real programme of action that challenges government, employers and unions to take further action to close the gap’. At the same time, he expressed his disappointment that the commission ‘could not agree on mandatory pay audits in the private sector, but that should not obscure the positive policies that now go forward with strong endorsement by this broadly based commission’. A number of individual trade unions, including the TGWU and Amicus, also criticised the commission for not recommending compulsory equal pay reviews. Diana Holland, TGWU national organiser for women, race and equalities, stated that: ‘The Women and Work Commission has made some important recommendations, which, of course, we welcome. But we are disappointed that it has fallen short of recommending mandatory pay audits.’

Research published by the Equal Opportunities Commission in January 2006 shows that levels of voluntary equal pay review activity have stagnated among large organisations and declined among smaller organisations in the UK (UK0602103N).

Mark Hall, Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU), Warwick Business School

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