Older women penalised as pay gap grows

WOMEN in Scotland are still being paid less than their male colleagues '“ and the gap is growing among older workers, according to figures released ahead of International Women's Day.

Male and female office staff can still be paid at different rates for performing the same work. Picture: Monkey Business Images
Male and female office staff can still be paid at different rates for performing the same work. Picture: Monkey Business Images

The statistics have been branded “grim reading” by equality campaigners who are now calling for urgent action to tackle the situation.

Scotland’s fair work minister Roseanna Cunningham says measures are in place to bring about change but admits that there is a “lot more work to do.”

Women in full-time jobs are paid £1.74 an hour less than men in the same job once they reach the age of 50, figures for last year show.

This shortfall has risen marginally from 2014. Even women in the 35-49 age group were paid £1.24 an hour less than men last year – a 9p annual rise. The gender pay gap among over-50s was 14.5 per cent in 2013 – up from 13.7 per cent the previous year.

The true extent of the problem is likely to be far worse as the figures do not cover part-time work which women are more likely to be forced into.

Emma Ritch, executive director of Scotland’s feminist organisation Engender, is now calling on Scotland’s political parties to commit to “decisive action” on the pay gap ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

She said: “The first is for an accredited scheme for businesses that enables them to take positive action to tackle women’s workplace inequality. Businesses that do this are not only more profitable, but also more creative, less liable to high turnover rates, and better protected from the reputations and financial risks of discrimination. Despite this, far too many businesses are mired in complacency.

“The second is for a women’s enterprise and employability fund. This would resource specialised support for women starting their own businesses and women struggling to access the labour market.”

Anna Ritchie Allan, project manager, Close the Gap said: “These figures make for grim reading, but they don’t tell the whole story about women’s position in Scotland’s labour market.

“Part-time workers, three-quarters of whom are women, aren’t included, and the pay gap is significantly higher when part-time work is accounted for.”

Many women end up in part-time jobs after having children, and this tends to be low-paid work in cleaning, care and retail.

“Part-time work has a long-term scarring effect on women’s incomes across their lifetimes, affecting not just their pay but also their promotion opportunities, and ultimately their pension,” Ritchie Allan added.

“Inflexible working practices and male-orientated workplace cultures see women under-represented in senior roles, and their concentration in low-paid, stereotypically female jobs.”

The statistics were released in a parliamentary answer by Cunningham. One encouraging sign is that women in the 25-34 age group have now overtaken men, earning an average of £12.67 – 31p more than their male counterparts. But among 16-24 year-olds, men were earning £8.94 an hour last year, while young women were making just £8.17. However, this 77p gap has almost halved since 2014.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale called on ministers to deliver real change instead of “soundbites and warm words.”

She pointed to the paltry 3 per cent of civil engineers in Scotland who are women, while just 10 per cent are in senior management jobs in science and technology.

“Scotland can and must do better than that,” the Labour leader said.

“Holyrood has a habit of patting itself on the back for the smallest of gestures. Just because the leaders of the three main parties are women does not mean we can say it is job done on gender equality when there is barely a crack in the glass ceiling for women across Scotland.

“But politicians in a parliament, or women in government won’t do anything on issues like the gender pay gap unless they have the political will to tackle it head on.”

The Scottish Government says female employment in Scotland is among the best in the EU and the gender pay gap is still the lowest in the UK.

But Cunningham said: “We know we have a lot of work ahead.”

She added: “Tackling this inequality, including low pay and the gender pay gap, are key priorities for the Scottish Government.”

Ministers say measures like the pledge to double the level of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds and promoting the living wage will help women who are “disproportionately” affected by low pay.

Cunningham added: “We have brought more transparency to pay issues by lowering the threshold for public authorities in Scotland to publish their pay gap to those with more than 20 employees.

“We also support fair work practices, including flexible working, which can be crucial in helping women and men combine career development with family responsibilities.”