Today is a key economic moment in the UK calendar. Unfortunately it didn’t merit a mention as the Prime Minister addressed the CBI conference. Today is the point at which British women begin effectively working for free, from now until the New Year, because of the wage gap.
Equal Pay Day fell on Monday November 9 this year. It’s two days later than it was in 2013, but it remains in November as it has for the last decade. At a time when politics seems alive with possibilities, and change appears to happen at a breakneck speed, the glacial pace of pay equality for women is infuriating.
The UK in 2015 shouldn’t see half of its workforce facing lower wages because of their gender. What is going on?
At Scottish Labour Conference in Perth last week we saw a report from our Low Pay Commission, which included contributions from the third sector and women’s organisations.
It found that low pay disproportionately hinders women. It reported that women are more likely to be locked into low-paid and undervalued work. It found that women are more likely to experience poverty in Scotland. Caring responsibilities, coupled with the inflexibility of paid work, means women have a weak attachment to the labour market.
We see in Scotland and across the UK that the lowest paid industries such as care, retail and hospitality have majority of women employees.
Scottish Labour has a raft of policies to tackle low pay. We would guarantee the Living Wage on public contracts, and I pledged in my leader’s speech in Perth that a Scottish Labour government would deliver the Living Wage for carers. We would ban exploitative zero hours contracts, and we would restore in full the money lost from any changes to tax credits.
But in addition tackling low pay, we have to tear down the barriers to high quality, high skilled jobs for women, to ensure our economy is based on equal access to the jobs of the future regardless of gender.
Experts have said that if Scotland invests in engineers we could reap a £1.7 billion windfall for our economy. We need nearly 150,000 new engineers over the next decade to hit that target.
That’s why it’s so important we encourage more women into science and engineering. Today only 3% of civil engineers in Scotland are women, and just 10% are in senior management jobs in science and technology. Scotland can do better than that, and indeed we must do better than that if we want Equal Pay Day to move out of November.
We also need to consider how we deal with the motherhood penalty, where women lose positions or promotions for going on maternity leave. We need to develop childcare policies that fit around a family’s life, not on an election leaflet. And we need to understand that having women in positions of influence is not the same as having feminists in positions of power.
Forty years on from the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, the glass ceiling may have a few chips in it but it’s far from shattered. It’s time Scotland’s governments got cracking and make Equal Pay Day December 31st every year.