A Labour government would seek to close the UK gender pay gap by 2030 by imposing a living wage of £10 an hour, extending maternity pay and introducing stronger protections against unfair dismissal for pregnant women, the party will announce on Thursday.
Official data suggest that full-time female workers are paid 8.9 per cent less than their male colleagues. Among all workers the gap remains even wider, at 17.3 per cent.
Labour will say that 50 years after the Equal Pay Act the gap is narrowing far too slowly and will take another 60 years to close at the current rate, according to the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality.
Laura Pidcock, shadow employment rights secretary, and Dawn Butler, shadow women’s secretary, will set out policies designed to address the situation.
They will pledge to create a workers’ protection agency with powers to fine organisations that fail to report their gender pay gap or take enough action to address it.
From late 2020 a Labour government would require all employers with more than 50 employees to obtain state certification on gender equality or face further auditing and fines. Meanwhile it would extend statutory maternity pay from nine to 12 months while introducing free childcare for all two-to-four-year olds.
Labour would strengthen protections against unfair dismissal and redundancies, require large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy and end the pay cap for public sector workers. There would also be national pay scales in low-paid sectors with mostly female workforces, such as childcare and school support staff.
The party is trying to tap into suggestions that the Conservatives are less popular with women than men: a recent poll by research group ORB suggested that men were much more likely than women to back the party under prime minister Boris Johnson.
Ms Pidcock said that working women had been “at the bottom of the list of priorities” for the government for too long. “Labour in government will be uncompromising in tackling the structural barriers that are holding so many women back,” she added.
Liz Truss, women and equalities minister, dismissed Labour’s initiative as “overpromising something they cannot deliver”, adding that since 2010 1.8m more women were in work.
Dominie Moss, founder of executive search firm The Return Hub, said the timeline was “completely unrealistic” despite the “robust” policy ideas.
“It doesn’t address the cultural and structural problems that undermine female progression in the workplace,” she said. “A realistic, long-term solution needs to review how women are recruited, promoted and retained at mid and senior career points. The system needs a serious shake-up, quickly, to get anywhere near this target by 2030.”
Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander review, an independent government-backed initiative aimed at getting more women into the boardrooms of FTSE 350 companies, said: “Allowing women to take longer paid maternity leave is not the answer — the way to really even up the playing field for men and women parents is to introduce a ringfenced portion of paid parental leave for one parent, i.e. a use-it-or-lose-it clause,” she said.
Edwin Morgan, acting director-general of the Institute of Directors business lobby group, said Labour needed to be careful about becoming “too draconian” in controlling the labour market.
“As a country we clearly have further to go on gender pay equality, and some of the measures proposed by Labour, such as extended maternity pay and childcare are welcome,” he said.
“But government certification for companies with 50 employees sounds pretty intrusive, and additional costs from regulation are the last thing smaller firms need right now. Likewise, sectoral pay bargaining is a big and wide-ranging policy weapon, which carries some serious side-effects in terms of business agility.”