To celebrate both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day Unison’s Sally George led a talk on Equal Pay for Women and The Gender Pay Gap. The public meeting, on Thursday 7th of March at the St Magnus Centre Kirkwall was hosted by Orkney Labour Party.
Sally George began her talk by setting the historical context of the campaign for equal pay covering the suffrage movement, women’s work in two world wars and the Ford Sewing Machinists Strike in Dagenham. The strike in 1968 paved the way for the 1970 Equal Pay Act which eventually came into force in 1975. Finally in 2010 the Equality Act was passed to ensure equal pay for equal work.
Sally George explained that women are more likely to experience poverty in old age and that the pay gap gets wider in the older age group.
It is difficult for women to get equal pay said Sally. First they have to find out if they are being paid less than male employees. Then it takes money and time to proceed with a case against an employer. It took 12 years for the equal pay dispute in Glasgow City Council to be resolved.
Sally George showed the meeting this video from Close the Gap
Sally said that, on average, for every £100 a man earns a woman earns £82.60.
The causes are complex, she explained – discrimination, undervaluing the traditional work women do and the dominance of men in certain roles. The gender pay gap increases for women, she said, after the birth of their first child. And for ethnic women or those with a disability there are additional barriers.
Sally George wants government and business to speed up changes, improve transparency and make it easier for women to access justice. There should be more flexible working and the traditional roles women fulfil should be properly valued.
The meeting also discussed the problems with accessing child care in Orkney particularly for those who require it outwith Kirkwall. The Living Wage has helped but Orkney is a low wage economy and many people are working 2 or 3 jobs. There needs to be shared parental leave and a re-balance of caring responsibilities.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame