Shrink the gender pay gap: Join a union #PayGapPledge
Today is Equal Pay Day, the day that the average woman stops earning compared to the average man because of the gender pay gap. To mark the day, the TUC has publicised figures highlighting what a long way we have to go before we get pay parity, especially in the top jobs. There is a staggering 55 per cent gap in the annual earnings between the top paid men and top paid women. Earlier in the year the TUC drew attention to the fact that many women, particularly those working part-time, remain stuck on a low paid floor. In some parts of the country, three-quarters of women working part time earn less than the Living Wage.
The Fawcett Society is asking people to make an equal pay pledge today (#PayGapPledge), outlining what they intend to do to narrow the pay gap. The TUC would like to see more women joining a union and organising in the workplace to improve their pay and conditions. Women already make up 55 per cent of trade union members. Unionised women earn an average 30 per cent more per hour than non-unionised women. The gender pay gap in the unionised workforce is 6 per cent compared to 22 per cent in the non-unionised workforce. This is because where trade unions are present there is greater pressure for pay transparency, clear and objective grading systems, and fairer wage distribution.
Recent media stories have drawn attention to some of the impressive women involved in the fight against low pay such as care workers and cleaners. One of the young women who featured in the TUC’s poster campaign against this government’s proposed draconian restrictions on strike action was involved in action to get the Ritzy Cinema to pay its staff the Living Wage. She told the Observer last week: “The face of unions and grassroots opposition is changing: there’s a lot of young women now and it’s not tub-thumping any more – we want to have intelligent conversations. For me, it was so scary to take on a big company to fight for a living wage, and without the union being there to reassure us that we did have rights as workers then I’m not sure things would have changed.”
It is heartening to see and hear these stories but there are still many parts of the labour market where women are not well organised and potentially have a lot to gain from joining a union. Women working in the private sector are lot less likely than women in the public sector to be in a union (13 per cent compared to 55 per cent) and they are less likely than men in the private sector to be in a union. The gender pay gap in the private sector is about 1.5 times higher than in the public sector – 18 per cent compared to 11 per cent.
Young women and part-time women are also less likely to be union members and they are some of the women most at risk of being low paid. Less than 1 in 10 women aged 16 to 24 are in a union compared to around one in three women aged 35 or over. One in five part-time workers is not in a union, compared to more than a quarter of full-time workers.
Of course, we need women not just to join unions but to become active within them. We need more women as workplace representatives, as part of negotiating teams and as paid union officers if we are going to get greater gender equality in the workplace. The TUC and unions have long been committed to addressing the gender representation gap within trade unions (see the TUC’s latest Equality Audit for examples). But Equal Pay Day is a good opportunity for us to reflect the progress we have made and what more we can do.