HC Deb 07 May 1968 vol 764 cc215-8

3.34 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an anti-discrimination board to examine and remove discrimination against women in employment, education, social and public life; and to provide for equal pay for work of equal value. I think that everybody now knows that this year we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the granting of votes to women, though probably only women would celebrate so enthusiastically the receipt of something the giving of which did not cost anybody anything! Over the last fifty years women have been struggling to obtain something much more tangible even than the vote. They have experienced considerable difficulties and there has been a failure by society to appreciate the full value of women in the community.

Women ale still primarily considered as wives and mothers although today more than 8 million of them are employed outside the home. We know from a recent report that half these 8 million women are earning less than 5s. an hour. Although that may seem to be just another statistic, recently I received a letter from a correspondent in which she said: My sister who is unmarried has worked for a certain firm for the past 41 years, her only job since she left school except for her service in the A.T.S.… She was showing me her wage slip for a months' salary which is as follows: £43 10s. 9d. per month, out of this she receives £30 7s. 6d. net. After stoppages this is about £7 a week. Out of this her rent, coal, electric, bus fares and insurance work out at £5 per week leaving her a meager £2 per week for food, clothes and replacements for her home.… She needs a new mattress for her bed but cannot afford to buy one. There are more than 4 million women earning wages at that level with that kind of economic problem to face.

Even in the professions only 11.7 per cent. of the workers are women. In the teaching profession, which is predominantly staffed by women, they are on the whole confined to the primary schools, whereas men generally teach in the secondary schools, they being graduates, and the women generally being non-graduates.

It is sometimes said that women do not want greater responsibility, or more managerial jobs, but if we compare the figures in this country with those of other countries, where women have the same basic characteristics, we find that while in this country 17½ per cent. of doctors are women, in the U.S.S.R. three-quarters of the doctors are women. In this country, one in 1,000 engineers are women. In France, one in 50 are women, in Norway the figure is one in 10, and in the U.S.S.R. it is one in three.

There is considerable discrimination against women in advertising and in the filling of a wide range of professional and management posts in private industry and commerce. This is paralleled by the great difficulty of women in getting promotion in many kinds of jobs. There was, rightly, a great outcry recently when an immigrant transport worker was prevented from carrying on his job as an inspector by white people who objected, but women transport workers do not even have the opportunity to become inspectors because they are not allowed to apply for training as such.

Where women are employed in the postal service as post women, they are temporary staff and cannot become established, and they suffer considerable disadvantages. A marriage bar is still imposed by some employers and others take away women's pension rights when they marry. The whole climate of opinion on this topic is such that I have never heard anyone object to women with marriage responsibilities going out to do what used to be called "charring" and is now called "being a Mrs. Mopp", but it is very difficult for them to take up higher-paid and more responsible posts.

One correspondent wrote to me recently that, when her firm was taken over by a bigger company, not one woman occupied a titled position, however menial: Our salary scale fully approved by the Management-sponsored staff association, makes no provision for women in any higher work grades. Women working on any section automatically become junior to the men thereon regardless of age or experience. But the biggest discrimination against women in employment is in pay rates. Nine out of 10 women do not receive equal pay. Their basic rate is 75 per cent. of the men's and in many cases it is much lower. Both the International Labour Organisation and now the E.E.C., followed by our own Trades Union Congress, have maintained that women should have equal pay for work of equal value. This is very important, because it enables women to have a fair assessment of the value of their job, even where there is no comparable male rate for the same job.

Although I appreciate all the difficulties, I find it shocking that, only yesterday, the Ministry of Employment and Productivity was claiming that further study of the position of women in employment was needed before even a phased programme of equal pay could be introduced. There has been a surge of resentment among women about the constant procrastination in securing equal pay. The time is always out of joint and it will continue to be unless a firm decision is taken that equal pay is right and will be brought into operation whatever the difficulties.

The Government estimate in 1966 that it would cost between £600 million and £900 million a year—even if we take the higher figure—would amount, as a recent Fabian survey has shown, only to the cost of less than two years of total wage increases within the 3½ per cent. limit. The Bill would, therefore, provide for the payment of equal pay for work of equal value.

There is discrimination in education, with regard to the training of girls when they leave school. The day-release figures of training of girls are quite pathetic compared with those for boys. There is discrimination in the medical schools over the numbers of women that they will take for training as doctors.

For older women, who form a large part of those at work and who most need retraining when they go back to work, it is distrubing to know that, in 1967, when 10,620 male workers were retrained at Government centres, only 15 women were so retrained.

In public life, also, there is discrimination, of a more subtle kind. Although women are often considered to play a large part in local government, in fact they form only a very small proportion. Therefore, while this prejudice and discrimination is difficult for women to fight by themselves, a board of this kind would be of value in giving them a powerful champion. The Race Relations Board has succeeded, and, with a similar machinery, the Anti-Discrimination Board could do the same for women. It would work on similar lines to the Race Relations Board. Women would be able to apply to it, and it would provide something which is long overdue.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Joyce Butler, Mrs. Braddock, Mrs. Corbet, Mrs. Ewing, Miss Herbison, Mrs. Lena Jeger, Mrs. Anne Kerr, Miss Quennell, Dr. Summerskill, and Dame Joan Vickers.

Back to