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9 June 2014

More female plumbers, but they suffer worst pay gap

Female tradespeople lose out.

By lucy Fisher

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.

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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. 

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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.”