Rosie the Riveter. Photo: Wikipedia
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More female plumbers, but they suffer worst pay gap

Female tradespeople lose out.

A survey published last week charting the rise in the number of female tradespeople was celebrated as a triumph for gender equality. Sadly the cheers may have been raised too soon, a new study shows.

According to new research conducted by Labour into gender pay gaps across sectors, which the Staggers can reveal exclusively, skilled trades are the worst industries for pay differences between men and women.

Female plumbers, electricians and carpenters earn on average a shocking 30 per cent less than their male colleagues.  Manufacturing and processing operatives rank second worst, with an average 22 per cent pay gap.

The statistics come as a blow, after a 10,000-person survey by IronmongeryDirect published last week revealed that almost 6 per cent of tradespeople were now women. 

Puns about the rise of "white van woman" aside, the growth in the number of female plasterers, builders and other skilled trades roles was seen as a boon for gender equality.

One positive finding in Labour's research, which otherwise depicted a bleak landscape for equal pay, was around part-time work. It found that the gender pay gap for those in part-time work saw women come out on top in almost every sector. 

Depressingly, the one area in which women still lag behind men in part-time work, however, is in the highest paid jobs. Female managers, directors and senior officials earn almost 15 per cent less than their male equivalents.

It is a dispiriting statistic, particularly since women who choose to work part-time in these occupations often do so to balance family commitments, including caring for elderly relatives and child care. It is perhaps indicative of why so many high-flying women say their careers never recover after they have children.

It is also worth pointing out that industries in which the pay gap is smaller between the sexes are also the industries in which women dominate the work force and pay is lower than the national average. 

Women working as nursing assistants and beauticians, for example, face a smaller pay gap at 6.5 per cent, but women comprise 82 per cent of the workforce, and the salary is more than 35 per cent lower the national average.

Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities Gloria de Piero told me last week of a women she had just met who had won a employment tribunal after suffering unequal pay. The woman had juggled credit card debt, baliff letters, sleepless nights and all because she had been ripped off with a lower wage because of her sex.

It hammers home the unfairness of unequal pay, which about simple justice, rather than men versus women. De Piero promised that a Labour government would make pay equality a priority.

She added: "Forty four years since Labour's Barbara Castle passed the Equal Pay Act and we're still talking about how we get equal pay. At whatever level, whether we work part time or full time, whether it's male dominated or a sector where women make up most of the workforce - women lose out. And it's getting worse under this Government. Progress on closing the gap has stalled under the Tories and Lib Dems meaning women are missing out on £170 extra a year."

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.