Women in their 50s have been let down by work
More women over the age of fifty are working than ever before but the generation of women who blazed a trail for women’s equality in the workplace are still struggling to get a fair deal. Low pay, discrimination, the pressures of juggling caring responsibilities and paid work, and difficulties accessing training opportunities are all among the key issues facing older women at work.
The trade union movement is well-placed to speak up on behalf of these women. The caricature of the average trade union member may still be a middle-aged, white man in a donkey jacket on a picket line, but the reality is somewhat different.
The typical trade union member today is more likely to be a woman than a man, and trade union density amongst women is greatest among the 50–59 age group. This is a group of members whose voices all too often go unheard.
The bottom line is that this generation of women has been let down. They entered the workforce in the 1970s or 80s. They were the first generation protected by equal pay and sex discrimination laws and the first to have rights to paid maternity leave. Many returned to work after having children and struggled to combine work with childcare at a time when few
employers offered flexible working. But after decades of hard work, many of these women feel short-changed. The fact that this generation of women earns a fifth less than their male counterparts and less than any other age group of women should set alarm bells ringing.
The TUC has put the needs of older women in the workforce at the forefront of its recent campaigning activities, with overwhelming support from our affiliates and the TUC Women’s Committee. The TUC and affiliate unions have welcomed the establishment of a Commission on Older Women set up by the Labour Party in 2013. The findings of the Age Immaterial project have fed into the Labour Party’s Commission and have arrived at many of the same conclusions. And today, we’re publishing a major report from Age Immaterial into older women’s experiences in the workplace.
The costs of ignoring this generation of women are high, and we need to see some urgent changes in both employer attitudes and practices and in policy that will ensure that women over 50 finally get a fair deal at work.