Women kept in their place by new study

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The toothless recommendations made by the Women at Work Commission today have achieved equality of a kind - they have been roundly condemned by almost everyone.

Equality campaigners hoped the WWC's report, "Shaping a fairer future", would persuade the government to make equal pay audits (EPAs) compulsory at corporations. In its report published today, the WWC has instead opted for a raft of measures that rely on techniques of persuasion and education that may bring about a gradual change in the fortunes of women in masculine industries.

EPAs would have exposed precisely where pay inequalities exist and allowed women to challenge the status quo. They would also have given women, who have clearly not been able to earn the same salaries as men, the opportunity to raid the wage coffers of the masculine hierarchy on terms defined by the hotly contested principle of equality.

Unions, equality campaigners and women bitched about the WWC being so soft over the issue of EPAs.

Dr. Sue Black, chair of industry networking group BCSWomen, was in broad support of the WWC's campaign to break gender stereotypes and improve education for women. But, she said, "They are not addressing the fact that women don't get paid enough in the jobs they do at the moment."

Unions were upset because legislation to force companies to conduct EPAs may have obliged management to work with them. It would have exposed pay disparities and may have even revived union fortunes.

Peter Skyte, national organiser for Amicus, the union, said: "It's disappointing in that the WWC has failed to recommend mandatory equal pay audits...It's a lost opportunity."

Women will have to fend for themselves in the courts instead, he said. "Without compulsion women will be working forever to achieve equal pay," he added.

The Equal Opportunities Commission applauded the WWC for reaching only for low hanging fruit. Companies are horrified at the thought of more costly red tape being imposed in the name of something so namby-pamby as equality.

In January, after four years campaigning for equal pay audits to be compulsory, the EOC found that their calls were falling on cloth ears. Only a third of large firms had conducted EPAs and those that did often failed to do them properly.

So, they suggested that the WWC recommend a new wheeze, equality checks, instead. Such equality checks might lead to full pay audits if they uncover indications of inequality like those for which there are already sure signs in science, engineering and technology industries - like pay gaps, few women in top jobs and the invincibility of old boy's networks.

The government and equality lobbies might not have the power to impose equality audits on the private sector, but in the public sector they will be compulsory in all but law. But nearly two-thirds of government organisations already do equal pay audits.®

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