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It’s distorted, that’s what it is …

I make no apology for entering the lists today in order to comment upon the latest figures that have been issued in respect of the UK gender pay gap. These come from companies who have over 250 employees – and who will be required by law to publish them on or before April 2018 – but who are in fact issuing them ad hoc in advance of that deadline.

See here for a link to the BBC’s report on the subject – GENDER PAY GAP

Yesterday afternoon I happened to be watching Sky News when a discussion took place between a female news presenter and two other ladies ‘on the line’ – by which I mean to say that they were not in the same studio, but appeared to the viewer on television screens on the wall in front of the presenter as she ‘chaired’ their three-way conversation.

One of the guests (I shall refer to her as ‘Guest A’ hereafter) was representing some sort of economic institute and appeared to have been invited onto the programme to react on behalf of employers, whilst the other (‘Guest B’), an official of a trade union, was representing the views of those seeking to promote equal pay and/or reduce said gender pay gap.

The – unsurprising you might think – ‘headline findings’ of the latest figures just published were that, although some progress has been made as regards ‘equal pay for equal work’ as between the sexes, the overall ‘gender pay gap’ within companies remains significant.

[I should add here that some of the devil is in the detail, but my rant today is based upon a ‘bucket chemistry’ overview of what data has been revealed and what the various supposedly-informed pundits on either side of the topic are saying about it.]

In her initial comment, Guest A suggested that the figures were misleading and unhelpful because they were comparing apples and pears – or chalk and cheese (depending upon your preferred phrase of choice in these circumstances) – and therefore gave a skewed and negative impression which did little to take the issues concerned forward.

In response, Guest B said she took a totally different view. Women had long been discriminated against in the workplace and a major effort was now needed – as was being proved starkly by the statistics coming in – to promote the cause of women in the workplace. It was ridiculous that talented and willing women were not being encouraged into work in companies right across the board because (obviously) the nation needed the best possible workforce in order to meet the nation’s future challenges.

She quoted some examples of the percentage differences in ‘mean pay’ within leading companies and effectively called them a disgrace.

For completeness I should add, firstly, that Guest A came back to point out that women often took lower-paid jobs because of a range of reasons –  including, for example, the fact they had childcare issues, or they only wanted part-time, or flexible, or just undemanding (unstressful) work.

And that, secondly, the Sky presenter did a competent job of putting each side’s points to the other.

And that, thirdly, the discussion lasted about ten minutes of air-time and really came to no conclusion, or indeed victory/loss.

For me – who genuinely did not have a dog in the fight concerned, I was just interested to listen to the arguments in the hope of learning more about the subject – the unsatisfactory aspect of the segment was the glaring black hole of illogicality that never really got addressed by any of the speakers.

Somebody please go ahead and correct me if I’m wrong, but the issue I’m referring to is the small but significant difference between ‘equal pay for equal work’ and the supposedly equivalent campaign for overall ‘UK gender pay equality’.

Let me explain.

Generally, I cannot believe that anyone these days could have an argument with ‘equal pay for equal work’. That said, from my time as a company manager, however, there were some complications (both in practice and law) when it came – as it sometimes did in employment tribunal cases – to comparing different jobs with each other in the cause of getting ‘equal pay’.

Say you’re a metal worker in a factory. The argument that women metal workers standing in the same assembly line, doing the same job, have a right to the same pay as male ones is unanswerable.

But, for example, in local council offices [this is an example I’ve made up for the purpose of illustration by the way], there were occasionally cases where (say) if men doing refuse collection were paid £250 per week … then women cleaning the local council offices (or toilets) used to claim that their jobs were the equivalent of refuse collection … an employment tribunal in a particular case might then accept that argument– and then suddenly overnight, all over the country, office and toilet cleaners were entitled to the same pay as refuse collectors.

My point is – after yesterday’s discussion on Sky News – that the ‘UK gender pay gap’ is, or should be, a quite separate issue from ‘equal pay’.

Take any UK company with over 250 employees. What the ‘gender pay gap’ campaigners are trying to say is that – if 200 of those are shop workers (90% of them women) are on £200 per week and the other 50 (the management, 90% of them men) are on £600 per week – that’s somehow unfair.

Because the ‘gender pay gap’ is worked out by taking the average pay that men in an organisation receive and then comparing it with the average pay that women receive.

What I’m trying to say is that the issue of getting more women into senior and/or management jobs is a quite different one from ‘equal pay for equal work’ and they should not be welded together into one campaign at all.

If I could, yesterday I would have loved to ask Guest B (the union official) (1) whether she has a secretary working for her in her office; and, if she’s answered ‘Yes’ to that question, (2) whether she thinks that her secretary – whether she or he be male or female – should be paid the same salary as she (Guest B) is.

Because that’s effectively what the ‘UK gender pay’ gap campaigners are arguing.

It’s crackers.

And it’s all very well arguing that there ought to be more women in senior management but you cannot run these things by quotas. Some women – dare I suggest most women – don’t want the long hours, plus the responsibility and stress, that come with senior management roles.

I’m just saying …





About Arthur Nelson

Looking forward to his retirement in 2015, Arthur has written poetry since childhood and regularly takes part in poetry workshops and ‘open mike’ evenings. More Posts