Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Equal Pay lobby of Parliament

Something of the order of 250 trade unionists (mostly UNISON members) are rallying at Central Hall Westminster as part of today’s lobby of Parliament. Jean Geldart has introduced the meeting by reading from the briefing notes provided to Labour MPs (which amount to saying that the problems of implementing Equal Pay in local government are not problems for Central Government).

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, is speaking first. .She says we still have a gender pay gap the size of the Grand Canyon. We need the Government to provide funding to enable local authorities to fill the gender pay gap in order to pay women workers the money they are owed. Heather wants the Government to put their money where their mouth is and wake up and smell the coffee (at the same time?)

Apparently Equal Pay was written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919! You live and learn eh?

Update at 1pm. Heather Wakefield has given us quite a wide ranging history of the past hundred years of struggle for Equal Pay. The former national negotiating machinery introduced equal pay for like work in the 1950s apparently.

Heather has just thanked Barbara Castle for the 1970 Equal Pay act. I must say I thought that the Ford sewing machinists had something to do with it as well? The role of women workers in struggle to achieve equal pay needs to be emphasised a little more than a simple chronology of past commitments.

Further update.

Diana Holland from UNITE’s TGWU section is bringing greetings of solidarity to the rally. She is stressing the importance of unity between the trade unions, and with the local authority employers, in order to press for funding to achieve equal pay without pay cuts and attacks on conditions of service. Diana believes that the Government is committed to equal pay and to filling the gender pay gap. (Also the tooth fairy?)

Further update (the second)

A little excitement as Jean Geldart has had to silence a heckler. Diana Holland says that MPs have to realise that this issue will not go away. She also says, to some considerable applause, that we can’t defend pay structures which contravene the Equal Pay Act. (I don’t think many people really want to do that. I think that there is an issue about protecting losers from the implementation of a new pay structure though – perhaps that is the concern of a few people who have just angrily left the meeting).

We are now moving on to hear Catherine Rake from the Fawcett Society.

Our speaker says that it is a disgrace that after ten years of a Labour Government we have the largest gender pay gap in Europe, which will take eighty years to close at the current rate of change for full time workers. This direct attack upon the failings of the Government distinguishes this contribution from the last and is well received.

Only 20% of MPs are women, which may be part of the reason why women’s issues receive a low priority.

The Tory Party are organising an Equal Pay day shortly (!) An opportunistic move of course, but an indication of the political dangers to the Government of failing to fund filling the gender pay gap. (The briefing note to MPs is disgraceful in refusing to accept responsibility for this problem).

We are now moving on to the practical arrangements for the lobby. I’ll have to chase my local MP so will stop blogging.

Let's hope the Government listens to us - but let's also start thinking about a political response if they don't...


Anonymous said...

Just a point of clarification, yes the ford machinists went on strike to demand equal pay but they only succeeded when the first secretary of state for employment who happened to be a woman supported their cause and drove through parliament to much opposition from the wider trade union movement the equal pay act.

So well done to Barbara Castle and the the women of ford who took the action to fight for equal pay shame their brothers in the trade union movement had not carried out simmilar action over the previous years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the live blog Jon - by popular demand!

Lobby went well we thought, our Labour-loyal MP signed the EDM (while we were there) and agreed to lobby Treasury for a helpful settlement and over capitalisation.

As for putting money where mouth is while waking up and smelling coffee - perhaps it's a pitch for Starbucks sponsorship? 'Unison, a smooth world of equality right there in the cup' Who knows.

Ben (York City)