Prime minister Theresa May’s pledge on 5 April to vigorously address the gender pay gap is a welcome move that will hopefully lead to action rather than just words on this topic. It is incomprehensible that it has taken so long to tackle such a fundamental issue of equality in a democracy like ours. And like the #MeToo movement that preceded it, it shows that if disadvantaged groups take a stance on an issue they can bend the ear of the establishment.
However, the government needs to go further still – not just around gender, but other forms of inequality too. The plight of ethnic minorities in most walks of employment has rarely been addressed, and yet there is a wide race pay gap, confining black and ethnic minority staff to lower pay in both the public and private sectors. This is because often qualified minority employees starting their career are placed at the bottom of the salary scale, opening a wide gap between their earnings and those of their majority counterparts. This gap, coupled with limited promotion opportunities, develops into a huge gulf over the career of minority workers.
In 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in its report The ethnicity pay gap, found that “many ethnic minorities have high proportions of people being paid less than the living wage”. Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black African immigrants are often “segregated into low-paid occupations”.
For instance, the pay gap for male Pakistani immigrants is 31 per cent; for male black immigrants it is 17 per cent and for British-born black Caribbean males it is 7 per cent. Women from Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrant backgrounds experience a pay gap of 12 per cent.
The EHRC report on the disability pay gap also shows the incredible gulf that exists between disabled employees and the rest of the workforce. The disability pay gap ranges from 7 per cent (for disabled women) to 13 per cent (for disabled men) but could be much higher for specific categories of disability – for example, it is 40 per cent for men with epilepsy. These figures are alarming since they suggest that pay awards in many organisations and sectors may contravene the Equal Pay Act 1970, and the persistence of the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps mean that such practices may have gone unchallenged.
In the context of the public sector and education [which are supposed to teach future generations democratic values and level playing fields] inequality in any form should not be tolerated. Politicians, both in power and in opposition, have both the power and the duty to make offending organisations accountable for their discriminatory actions through the publication of their equality records. It is only by courage and singing in unison – #OutUnequalPay – that we will overcome these worrying inequalities.
The campaigns run by women over the past 18 months have set an example for other struggles for equality. We should salute these women and use them as case studies for other disadvantaged groups. The winds of change are blowing hard and they point to some light at end of the tunnel (however faint that light may be now).
Dr Dieu Hack-Polay is a senior lecturer in management at the University of Lincoln’s International Business School