Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Thursday of this week was Equal Pay Day. This symbolises the date on which women – who earn 15% less than men in the UK – effectively cease to be rewarded for the work they do.

A TUC report published on the same day suggested that in some industries the difference between male and female pay can be as high as £16,000 – the equivalent of a London Living Wage job. The best paid roles were shown to be worst affected, with female health professionals – who receive £25 an hour compared to the £50 earned by male equivalents – faring especially badly.

Figures from across the political spectrum attacked the continued existence of the gender pay gap, with TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady calling it a “huge injustice” and Chancellor George Osborne admitting there remains “a long way to go”. However, Conservatives – including Equalities Secretary Maria Miller – opened themselves up to accusations of paying lip service to the issue by refusing to adopt affirmative measures. Miller said on Friday “I don’t believe government intervention will work”, arguing instead that “cultural change” is the answer.

That we still have a gender pay gap more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is a sign that ‘cultural’ changes do not come about in isolation. They require some kind of socio-economic stimulus from government. The UK’s post-austerity backslide on gender equality highlights this; laissez-faire policies have penalised women more than men, and we have fallen behind many of Europe’s more proactive Member States. Since 2010, for example, Holland, France and Italy have all, thanks to binding legislation, accelerated far faster than us on the subject of getting women into boardrooms.

Insisting on voluntary solutions to close the gender pay gap means that the effort to achieve gender equality continues to swim against the tide. The overwhelming momentum of more immediate marketplace drivers is simply too strong. If the elimination of the pay gap is ever to be achieved then a more substantial commitment from government is required.

The end of the week, meanwhile, saw the City of London Corporation’s Lord Mayor’s Show at Michaelmas ‘Common Hall’. At the event on Saturday Fiona Woolf formally took office as Lord Mayor of London, becoming the 686th appointee to the role.

Woolf is an impressive candidate, who has fought her way to the top of the legal profession and been given a fellowship at Harvard. The Lord Mayor’s position has been an almost exclusively male domain since it was created in 1189. Woolf’s election makes her just the second woman to hold to post – the first being the 1983 incumbent Dame Mary Donaldson.

A ratio of 343:1 for gender representation is unimpressive by any standards. It falls a long way short of Lord Davies’ 25% target for women on boards!

The City of London’s gender pay gap currently stands at 33%. This means that, despite being a place which sets the economic tone nationally, it actually lags behind the rest of the country for women’s pay. Let’s hope that Woolf’s appointment symbolises a wider commitment to gender equality from those in the financial sector.

Women in their 50s earn 20% less than men

Labour Party

Women who work full-time in their 50s earn 20% less than men, research by the Trades Union Congress revealed yesterday.

Their research which was based on figures from the Office of National Statistics found that the disparity in pay corresponds to smaller pensions. The worst hit by the gender pay gap are women aged between 50-59.  This isn’t a shock, and it’s why I have consistently supported moves designed to decrease the gender pay gap. 

However, there is another side to this problem, namely the level of support provided to older women.

Women in their 50s are already burdened with a pension system that has hit them hard. Many women have not had the same opportunity as men to make savings, nor contribute to a pension pot like their male counterparts.

Equally, many find it difficult to work full-time later in life because they are expected to take on familial duties such as caring for older parents or other loved ones.

Low pay, therefore, remains a problem for many thousands of women many of whom may earn in the region of £10,000 which, as Frances O’ Grady, General Secretary of the TUC said, is barely enough to live off let alone to save.

We know that women still earn less than men in their careers, but this figure increases when women reach their 50s. All of this is made worse after the government decided to increase the state pension age.

Many women will want to continue working, but they must not penalised for only being able to work part-time due to responsibility for other people. Women’s pay shouldn’t be disproportionately affected because they have to take on caring roles. Neither should they give up decent pay or interesting careers often built up over many years.

DWP ruling slams practice which is little short of slavery

Labour Party

Government work schemes were dealt a big blow yesterday following a ruling that the Department for Work and Pensions had exceeded its powers in its use of unpaid work schemes. The ruling found that this was legally flawed and means there is now the opportunity for thousands of others who had been on the scheme to also seek compensation.

The Guardian gives full coverage of the case, which had initially been brought by a 24-year old, Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who was made to work in Poundland, while on a scheme.

She argued that working in Poundland had not had not helped her find a full time position, that she was unable to carry out valuable voluntary work and that the only ones to benefit from the scheme was Poundland itself.

The panel of Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton ruled unanimously that Duncan Smith had exceeded his powers as secretary of state. In the ruling, Burnton said: “I emphasise that this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits.”

Burnton said parliament was “entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions”. “However,” he said, “any scheme must be such as has been authorised by parliament.”

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This blows a big hole through the government’s workfare policies. Of course voluntary work experience can help the jobless, and it is right to expect the unemployed to seek work. But it is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment. “This policy is about blaming the jobless, not helping them.”

The PCS union said that its members who staff jobcentres and advice centres would “offer guidance and support to all those affected by the ruling, including those who have been unjustly sanctioned.”

Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, said the ruling “should not be seen as some sort of body blow to the government’s welfare plans.

“The main problem in this particular instance was miscommunication of the requirements and penalties for not complying, rather than the policy itself.”

Having worked in the voluntary sector for many years before becoming an MEP, including holding the chief executive position in two national organisations, I have had first-hand experience of the value of work carried out on a voluntary basis. I have, indeed, done this myself on occasion. However, what the DWP attempted to do is not acceptable voluntary work; it is little short of slavery.

First female to head TUC

Labour Party

A significant milestone was reached yesterday in UK trade union affairs – the Trade Union Congress (TUC), elected its first ever female general secretary. 

Frances O’ Grady will replace the current TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, who has held the position for 10 years.

O’Grady is one of few women to reach a senior position, of course Brenda Dean who became the first president of the print Union Sogat is another notable figure. Now a Baroness she was the union’s general secretary between 1985 and 1991.

O’Grady has made trade union history twice, having been elected as the first female deputy general secretary in 2003.

She is known as an effective negotiator and able public speaker and has been an active trade unionist all her working life, joining a trade union while still a schoolgirl doing part-time jobs.

Her dedication and commitment to the movement couldn’t be more apparent than when she vowed to use her position to ensure the TUC continued to “speak up for working people”.

She said in a speech:” Never has a strong, responsible trade union movement been so needed. With austerity policies biting hard and with no evidence that they are working, people at work need the TUC to speak up for them now more than ever.

“We must be the advocates of the growth and jobs alternative, and with the policy prescriptions of the last 30 years increasingly discredited, we have the best opportunity in a generation to help build a fair, productive and green economy that works for ordinary people,” she said.

Trade Union politics is demanding, tough and at times messy, so it’s a tall order for even the most seasoned of unionists. Her experience to date makes her stand head and shoulders above almost all her contemporaries though.

I hope her role will encourage more women to aim for senior positions in trade unions.

Very best wishes to Frances. She will, I know, be a huge success as TUC General Secretary, a tough job in these difficult economic times.