Life in Politics with Fabian Hamilton MP: Action needed to tackle gender pay gap
As austerity bites and wages continue to fall for everybody across the country, it is women’s pay that is getting hit hardest whilst the gender pay gap widens.
It is extremely worrying that in my own constituency of Leeds North East, women earn 33 per cent less than men on average, according to research published last week.
The average man in Leeds North East reportedly earns around £32,000 per year, while the average woman earns around £22,000 per year.
This problem is so embedded into our places of work that it can only be solved with tough, meaningful legislation. I believe that it’s time for the government to punish those companies, private or public, who fail to close their gender pay gaps.
This should also not be used as an excuse by some employers to cut the wages of their male employees.
Led by Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister, Dawn Butler, a Labour government would ensure that every person in this country was paid a proper living wage, by auditing the gender pay gap at firms across the UK.
Merely identifying the gender pay gap, though, is worthless - only action through legislation will resolve such a longstanding issue. It should be the case that all companies with over 250 employees be subjected to a mandatory audit, with larger firms required to develop and publish a specific action plan to tackle their gender pay gap, if they have one. Those companies who fail to carry out their action plans should be fined in order to set the precedent that it is not acceptable in a modern, democratic society to pay women less than men. However, sadly it is the case that women from different ethnic backgrounds suffer even greater forms of discrimination in their place of work.
It was reported recently that an Indian woman who began work as a teaching fellow at the University of Leeds was put on the lowest possible salary for her academic band, while her colleagues were paid considerably more.
Furthermore, a freedom of information request submitted by the BBC recently discovered that this was not an isolated incident but rather an unfortunate trend amongst our Russell Group universities. On average, the research found that white women working at Russell Group universities were paid 15 per cent less than men while Asian women were paid 22 per cent less and black women paid a staggering 39 per cent less than their male counterparts.
Russell Group universities are supposed to represent the brightest and most talented of this country’s academics and so it’s essential that they update their employment practices to tackle this widespread discrimination against women.
Whether it’s based on gender, race or anything else, any kind of employment discrimination is totally unacceptable.
The current state of the gender pay gap in Leeds does not reflect the diverse nature of our city and should be treated with the utmost concern by employers responsible for making change happen.
The only way to close the gender pay gap is for the government to finally throw its weight behind the meaningful change that women in Leeds desperately need.
Fabian Hamilton is the Labour MP for Leeds North East.