Want to narrow the gender pay gap? Join a union

By midnight on Wednesday 4th April, all companies and organisations in the UK with more than 250 employees were required to publish data on the difference between their median hourly rate for a man and a woman. This revealed that on average, women earn 9.7% less than men in the UK.

The data revealed some of the areas where the gender pay gap is largest. The public sector has a larger gender pay gap than the private sector and there is still currently no sector where on average, women earn more than men. The sectors with the largest median pay gaps are construction (25%), insurance (22%) and education (20%).

Despite the fact that education is a sector which is highly staffed by women, it’s pay gap remains large due to the expansion of academy schools in recent years, where head teachers who are predominantly male are thought to be earning extortionate amounts.

These statistics do not so much reveal that women are paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job, but rather women are disproportionately in lower paid positions than men.

At Ryanair, which has a pay gap of 72%, women make up only 3% of the top paid staff at the company. This is due to the fact that most of the female staff are in air hostess and customer service roles which carry an average salary of around £20,000 – £25,000 per year. The higher paid positions including an airline pilot, which has an average salary of £57,000 – £78,000 per year or up to £140,000 for major airlines, are predominantly staffed by men.

ITN reported a median gender pay gap of 20% and a 77% gap in bonuses. This is unsurprising considering only 3 of its 20 highest paid employees are female. Barclays Bank reported that women earn 43.5% less per hour than men and earn 73.3% less in bonuses. Women make up only 19% of the highest paid 25% of staff at Barclays Bank.

However, not all companies can make this excuse for their gender pay gap. Condé Nast reported a gender pay gap of 23.3%, despite having more women than men at every position in the company.

It is clear that in the UK, women remain underrepresented in the higher levels of the workplace. Whether women go to work in the private sector or the public sector, they are less likely than their male colleagues to secure a seat in the boardroom. This is an inequality which rears its head whenever the gender pay gap makes it into the headlines.

One logical step towards achieving equal pay is for women to unionise. Unionised women on average, earn 30% more than non-unionised women.

There is a 22% pay gap between non-unionised men and women, compared to a pay gap of only 6% between men and women who are unionised. Unions are vital for stronger protection of employment rights, in particular – the rights of workers in lower paid sectors such as the hospitality sector or the social care sector.

Whether it be through collective bargaining or through European equality law, trade unions offer women the strength of numbers needed for employers to take gender equality seriously.

Equal pay legislation in the UK, is often individualistic, and has a narrow definition as to what constitutes as discrimination. Collective bargaining ensures that a concrete deal is negotiated that will apply to all female employees of the company, and will put women’s pay in the same grade as their male colleagues.

Scarlet Harris, the women’s policy officer at the TUC said to the Guardian “Realistically, most women in the lowest pay grades aren’t going to be able to knock on the door of the head of human resources or the CEO and say: ‘You’ve got a problem with your pay gap, what are you going to do about it?’ Strength in numbers is a good way to go”

Unions offer women not only the resources to organise themselves in the workplace, but also the authority to demand that employers uphold the rights of working women, so that no women faces pay inequality on the basis of gender.

Trade Unions will not single-handedly abolish the gender pay gap, this would take a cultural revolution, but they will help to narrow it.