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Women in the frontline of fighting austerity cuts
The United Nations says it will take 70 years to close the wage gap between women and men. However, a UK government spokesperson used International Women's Day to claim the gender pay gap in Britain was "at its lowest ever". But this narrowing is not the result of women's pay surging but because male workers pay has been falling faster. As PCS union Department for Work and Pensions group vice-president Katrine Williams explains, austerity measures and capitalist recession have hit women disproportionately hard.
Women make up the majority of low-paid workers. In contrast we see the very visible greed of the bosses and hear about MPs 'struggling' on their 'meagre' £67,000 pay. No wonder there is a growing anger and mood among women and men in the workplace to tackle low pay.
While the cost of necessities has soared our pay has fallen backwards. In my sector, if pay had kept pace with inflation, wages would be on average £2,300 higher than they are now.
Cuts in pensions and low pay also mean nearly 500,000 women are forced to work past 65 years. With cuts in public services there are increasing pressures on women to plug the gaps and undertake more of the caring responsibilities than before. Not surprisingly, women have been to the fore in the campaigns to defend our services from the cuts in communities.
A new Trades Union Congress (TUC) study confirms, despite government claims to the contrary, that making ends meet is a continual struggle - with women and their families facing "the worst squeeze on real income since Victorian times".
Only one in 40 of the net jobs created have been full-time jobs - the rest are part-time or self-employed. 1.3 million workers are under-employed as they can't find a full-time job.
Workers classed as 'self-employed' are very likely to be super-exploited by bosses who avoid paying proper rates of pay, holiday pay, sick pay, etc.
Zero-hour contracts are increasing year on year and over half of these jobs are done by women who struggle to juggle caring responsibilities with bosses controlling their working hours.
45 years have passed since the Equal Pay Act - showing that legislation is not enough to bring about equal pay.
The potential exists to build a strong trade union campaign to fight for equal pay but also for decent pay for all. We will work hard to build this potential into coordinated action across the public and private sectors to demand pay increases and an increase in the minimum wage to the TUC demand of £10 an hour.
Coordinated action can also help to use the strength of unions in the public sector to pile the pressure on to demand privatised areas of public services get decent pay and working conditions.
Trade union action is needed to increase rights for workers including access to flexible working, living pension, free childcare and a shorter working week to 35-hours, with no loss of pay.
- While pay has fallen across the board, women's average wages are more than £20 a week worse off in real terms than they were in 2008. Those working part-time earn 38% less an hour than their male counterparts.
In The Socialist 11 March 2015:
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