Anne McTaggart MSP marks Equal Pay Day by setting out how we can all play our part in closing the gender pay gap and delivering fair pay for all.
Women are now working for free until the New Year, and earn 80% of every pound a man is paid for the same work. That is the stark reality facing the women of the UK as a result of the continuing inability of government to ensure equal pay.
The gender pay gap was cut by a third under the Labour government between 1997 and 2010. Sadly, under the Conservative coalition in Westminster, and the SNP administration in Holyrood, that gap is once again widening.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report this year saw the UK fall to 26th place in the rankings for gender equality, partially as a result of poor female earnings. Many factors have played a part, including increasing part-time work for women, the continued characterisation of men as the family “breadwinner” and the difficulties women face in career progression due to reticence by employers around issues such as childcare and maternity leave.
Yet equal pay has been enshrined in law for over 40 years after the great work of the Dagenham machinists. It is illegal to pay a woman less than a man for equal work, yet still we have this disparity continuing to blight our society and disenfranchising women up and down the country.
The same old prejudices are prevalent. Women, many of them in part time work, are only seen as capable of “traditional” roles such as cleaners, caterers and carers. All of these jobs are undervalued in the modern economy, whilst “traditional” male equivalents, such as construction, trade and transportation are seen as valued, skilled work.
There is still an expectation that women will become unpaid carers to children or elderly relatives, removing them from the jobs market entirely, and ensuring a difficult route back to work in the future.
Add to that the characterisation of women as primary caregivers, and issues such as maternity leave and childcare, and it is clear that the UK has a long way to go in guaranteeing women a fair days pay for a fair days work.
The Scottish Government too has been dragging its heels.
Its failure to reward all Scottish public sector workers, most of whom are women, the Living Wage is simply unacceptable.
We in the Scottish Labour Party believe that the Living Wage should be the expectation, not the exception, and with a study by KPMG published earlier this week stating that 270,000 women in Scotland currently earn less than the Living Wage, it is clear that this SNP Government is not only failing our children and our young people, but failing Scotland’s women too. Indeed the SNP have been failing Scotland long before they came to power, refusing to back the National Minimum Wage in 1997, along with breaking promises in their manifestos of 2011 and 2012 to introduce the Living Wage in Scotland, to the detriment of women across the country.
It is often said that you can judge a country and a society by how it treats its most vulnerable. Thousands of women in Scotland fall into that category, with poor wages simply not enough to cover spiralling costs in energy, childcare and the cost of living.
The Labour Party is committed to freezing energy prices and shifting the focus of our essential services back to the consumer, so that never again will people have to decide between heating and eating.
The Labour Party is committed to ensuring an increased Minimum Wage for all workers by the end of the next Parliament, allowing us to remove thousands more from poverty, as we have done with the introduction of a Minimum Wage in 1997, benefiting low paid workers, the majority again who are women.
The Labour Party in Scotland has pledged to invest £45 million in Scotland’s mothers, giving them a free childcare place if they wish to go to college to further their skills to compete in the jobs market.
It is precisely these kinds of policies that will alleviate the stress, hardship and poverty of Scotland’s women and provide them with the support that is unfortunately still needed to allow them to compete with a still male dominated workplace.
I accept that equal pay is not just an issue for low earners. There are huge disparities in pay amongst the business community too. Women face great challenges at the highest echelons of the business world and the outdated, discriminatory practices that still sadly exist there.
But it is surely amongst our most vulnerable, poorest paid women that we should focus for now. It is my belief that giving women a level footing in the workplace, free from “traditional” concerns around childcare or care giving roles, will empower and inspire women across the country. There is no reason why women should feel any greater burden than men when it comes to such concerns, yet we know that is not the case.
We in the Labour Party know that this attitude to women has to change. There are many obstacles to female equality in the workplace, not least our current governments in Holyrood and Westminster.
But we are at our best when we’re at our brightest and when we seek to deliver the change that people want.
On the doorstep over the next few months as we approach the 2015 Westminster and 2016 Holyrood elections, never let it be said that a Labour government did nothing for women.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do more. We have a proud record, but an even brighter future for the nation’s women. I’ll be playing my part, and I ask you to play yours.