Call for 'right to know' law to tackle unequal pay

14 November 2019, 12:41 | Updated: 14 November 2019, 14:52

Women should have the legal right to know what their male work colleagues earn so they can challenge unequal pay, say campaigners.

The Fawcett Society is calling for a new law that would force firms to tell female staff if they are paid less than men for doing the same job.

The women's rights group says salary secrecy perpetuates inequality.

The demand for action came on Equal Pay Day, when women are said to effectively start to work for free for the rest of the year because of the gender pay gap.

The Fawcett Society said three out of five women either do not know what their male colleagues earn, or believe they are paid less for doing the same job.

Landmark legislation back in 1970 gave women the right to equal wages for doing the same job as a man.

But ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, the Fawcett Society says a lack of transparency over salaries means women struggle to know when they are being underpaid or to bring a legal challenge when the law is broken.

The group's chief executive, Sam Smethers, said: "Equal pay for equal work is still a distant dream for many women.

"Pay secrecy means women cannot know if they are being paid equally and fairly.

"Even if they do suspect a man is earning more it is almost impossible to do anything about it. This is why we are calling for a change in the law.

"Women need an enforceable right to know what their colleagues earn so that they can challenge unequal pay."

However, the Confederation of British Industry is concerned the proposed law could be abused.

The CBI's Matthew Percival said: "If right to know were to be introduced, businesses would need protections to ensure that it could not be misused."

It follows a number of high-profile equal pay rows, including the BBC's former China editor Carrie Gracie, who won her battle with the broadcaster after she discovered she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts.

Meanwhile, BBC presenter Samira Ahmed is awaiting the outcome of an equal pay claim she brought against the corporation.

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

This is driven by a number of factors including women's under-representation in senior roles, the impact on careers of taking time out to have children, and unequal pay to male colleagues.