Tuesday 24 April 2018

Women more likely than men to be underpaid - but less likely to moan about it

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA

Sophie Christie

Women are more likely than men to be underpaid but are less likely to complain about it, a new report has highlighted.

Two thirds (62pc) of workers aged 25 and over paid less than the minimum wage of £7.50 (€8.50) an hour are female, the UK government department HMRC found as part of its investigations into minimum wage non-compliance.

Research by the Low Pay Commission, an independent body that monitors the minimum wage, said this matches with its own earnings data showing a figure of 65pc.

Its research found that women were less likely than men to complain to their employer or the ACAS helpline – the formal route for such concerns – about underpayment. 

This was corroborated by Government data for 2016/17, which showed just over half of enquiries about underpayment came from women; fewer than the two-thirds expected.

Lack of awareness is one of the reasons for not complaining across all underpaid workers, the LPC said. More than half of low-paid workers think that the law allows them to agree to be paid less than the minimum wage, while a similar number were unaware that tips cannot "top up" pay.

The LPC estimated that at its peak, between 305,000 and 579,000 workers were underpaid between 2016-17.

It urged the government to continue proactive investigations into companies that could be underpaying staff and to continue monitoring the impact of non-compliance policy by gender and to try to encourage more national minimum wage complaints from underpaid female workers.

As the national living wage rises, HMRC will have the job of policing the pay of 3.3 million workers by 2020, up from 2.3 million today, the group added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that there were "no excuses" for underpaying minimum wage rates. "Workers should get the wages they are owed and the Government will come down hard on employers that break the law," she said.

“Last year HMRC identified almost £11m of back pay for more than 98,000 of the UK’s lowest paid workers - around two thirds of which were women.”

Shainaz Firfiray, a professor at Warwick Business School who researches ethics in the workplace, said: "These findings show that a lot more needs to be done to enforce the minimum wage as well as to ensure the economic security of women and their families.

"Economic security doesn’t simply mean being able to cover monthly living expenses but also be able to save for retirement or buy a home. It’s only by increasing economic security for women that we can foster gender equality."


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