Speaking to The Telegraph this week, Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the TUC (the main representative of trade unions in England and Wales),had much to say regarding the gender pay gap, motherhood and the importance of the trade union movement. After more than a year in this position, she has experienced gender discrimination first-hand saying that she often feels like ‘the only woman in the village’ when working alongside the Government or employers for example. Despite this, she is not afraid to voice her concerns when it comes to the position of women in the labour market.
As a general concern, she finds the increase in low-paid jobs caused by the recession worrying. She notes that this however has not prevented those at the top from getting a pay rise. Women are brought into this equation due to them having to pay “a big motherhood penalty”. According to O’Grady, there is a link between part-time work and low pay, which contributes to the gender pay gap. She thus believes that the current labour market is actively working against women, stating:
“For women it’s still the case that when you have children it’s very hard to return to work. It’s a story that doesn’t get told, that women are adversely affected by the labour market. We can’t lose sight of the fact that actually, for millions of working women, it isn’t getting any easier.”
Her main concern therein is that this development will be a permanent one. Due to her “personal interest” in the matters of women and childcare, O’Grady vows to fight for workers in low-paid and poor quality jobs in the coming year.
She’s not convinced by the rise in female self-employment either. To her this simply means that women are doing exactly the same jobs they would be in contracted positions such as hairdressing or secretarial work, yet with “poorer terms and conditions”. Furthermore, she believes that not all men in top positions are there on the basis of merit; rather it is a case of “a pat on the back, around the golf course.” And, contrary to popular belief, women are asking for pay rises but are just more likely to hear a “no” from their bosses.
So, what must the UK do in order to overturn these miserable conditions? O’Grady thinks that it is a matter of having too few women in Government. Only a diverse Government could resolve women’s issues in the labour market. Also, the Government needs to sort out the pay gap in order that men will take the parental leave that they are due. The trade union movement, which she hopes will grow, can provide assistance in the meantime.