The Women and Work Commission Report "Shaping a Fairer Future" was presented to the Prime Minister by Baroness Prosser on 27 February 2006. The report comes at a time when the UK has the worst gender pay balance in Europe with women who work full time earning 13 % less than men who work full time. These lower earnings place women at a greater risk of falling below the poverty line and of being worse off than men in retirement.
The Commission estimates that removing barriers to women working in occupations traditionally done by men could be worth between £15 billion and £23 billion or between 1.3% and 2% of GDP. Our ageing society also means that both men and women may need to work longer and so a broader spectrum of opportunities needs to be made available to women.
The report highlighted the fact that a culture change is necessary in order to challenge the assumptions about the types of job that men and women can do. In particular, the plight of women who work in the "five C's" was stressed – catering, cleaning, cashiering, clerical work and caring and the report seeks to provide guidance as to how women can take up a wider variety of vocational training.
The report made 40 recommendations that are designed to provide a root and branch overhaul of the gender pay gap. These include:
- Small firms should get fiscal incentives to reduce the additional costs of employing part-time or flexible workers.
- Employers should ensure that managers at all levels are regularly and continually trained on diversity and flexibility issues.
- The DTI should support new initiatives aimed at achieving a culture change, so that more senior jobs, particularly in the skilled occupations and professions are more open to part time and flexible working.
- The promotion of young apprenticeships to 14-16 year olds in occupations not traditionally taken up by their gender.
- The Low Pay Commission's standing terms of reference should be amended to include a gender impact assessment as part of each report. Targeted enforcement of the national minimum wage should be directed at sectors employing large numbers of women.
Trade Union leaders and equality campaigners condemned the Commission's failure to compel companies to carry out equal pay audits. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has argued that encouraging businesses to voluntarily examine whether they are paying men and women equally is not working in Scotland. EOC research last year showed that only 10% of Scottish based organisations have completed an equal pay review compared to 22% in England and 15% in Wales. Campaigners have said that without compulsory pay audits women will never receive equal wages.
The Prime Minister has appointed Tessa Jowell to take cabinet responsibility for implementing the report and Alan Johnson, trade and industry secretary, pledged to work with companies to remove workplace barriers to women.