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Girls & Women

UK Urged to Give Women Right to Know What Male Colleagues Earn

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Employers should be forced to tell female staff if they are paid less than men doing the same job, a British women's rights group said on Thursday, arguing that secrecy perpetuates inequality.

Women's rights group the Fawcett Society made the call for a new law obliging firms to disclose men's pay on "Equal Pay Day" — the date after which the gender pay gap means British women are effectively working for free until the end of the year.

"Equal pay for equal work is still a distant dream for many women," said chief executive Sam Smethers as the group released its latest report, "Why Women Need a Right to Know".

"Women need an enforceable 'Right to Know' what their colleagues earn so that they can challenge unequal pay."

Britain's landmark 1970 Equal Pay Act gave women the right to equal wages to men doing the same job.

But as the act approaches its 50th anniversary, a lack of transparency over salaries means women struggle to know when they are being underpaid or to raise a legal challenge when the law is broken, said the Fawcett Society.

About 3 in 10 women have no idea what their male counterparts earn, found a poll of 1,000 women for the organisation. More than a third of those who knew how they compared said their male colleagues were paid more.

Nearly 8 in 10 British people believe a woman should be able to find out if she is paid less for equal work, according to a separate survey of about 2,000 men and women by the Fawcett Society.

Business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry raised concerns the proposed law could be abused.

"If Right to Know were to be introduced, businesses would need protections to ensure that it could not be misused," said Matthew Percival, CBI director of people and skills policy.

Britain has seen a number of high-profile equal pay disputes, including the resignation last year of Carrie Gracie as the BBC's China editor after she discovered she was paid less than some male peers.

The average pay gap for full-time workers is 13%, down from 14% a year ago, according to analysis by the Fawcett Society.

The pay gap is driven by a number of factors including women's under-representation in senior roles, the impact on career progression of taking time out to raise children, and unequal pay to male colleagues at the same level.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)