Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


2 MARCH 2005

  Q60 Chairman: Could you introduce yourselves, please?

  Ms McCulloch: I am the National Equalities Officer for Amicus. I was formerly in the engineering section of Amicus. We have been through various amalgamations. I have been a full-time officer with Amicus for six years.

  Ms Dawson: I still have my old GPMU title of Equality Policy Adviser. I have been working for the union at national level for 26 years with eight years in equality.

  Q61 Chairman: We would like to start this morning with this. The picture within the British labour market is somewhat varied in the sense that we have seen in recent years great breakthroughs in areas like the law and medicine, but then in other areas where I think your organisation recruits, for example the Post Office or Royal Mail and financial services, there are still rather more than just glass ceilings, it would appear, on advancement. Have you given any thought to why there seems to be this patchiness about the ability of women to make breakthroughs across the labour market?

  Ms McCulloch: Traditionally it is because women have always tended to go into low-paid jobs. I think attitudes need to be changed, especially within the finance sector where we have a pay gap of 43%, which is pretty shocking. It is really difficult for women to be promoted within the finance sector.

  Q62 Chairman: Within the finance sector, there would not be a great deal of difference about the starting pay, would there, in the sense that school leavers or graduates going into an insurance company or a bank would not necessarily be starting off on different wages, would they, assuming they had the same group of GCSEs, A levels or Highers?

  Ms McCulloch: I think it very much depends: within the finance sector there are not really any published salary scales so that there is no clear picture to see the salary scales. Within the finance sector, people tend to be promoted and told not to tell their colleagues what they are earning. There is a lot of secrecy around the rates of pay within the finance sector.

  Q63 Chairman: What about postal services?

  Ms McCulloch: We have the CMA, the managers' association, which is part of the Royal Mail. To be perfectly honest with you, we inherited the CMA when we amalgamated with MSF. The CMA is quite a secretive organisation. Even as a union we have had difficulty trying to make a breakthrough with them. Even though they are part of Amicus, they are very much an entity on their own within Amicus.

  Chairman: We have had dealings with the CMA, although I believe there are some personnel changes being made in the organisation at the moment. We have dealt with them in their capacity as the managers' organisation for Crown post offices and the like. We may go to them directly or perhaps you could provide us with additional information.

  Q64 Linda Perham: In your evidence you say that the Government needs to address the low value attached to occupations dominated by women. The suggestion you make is an increase in the national minimum wage. I wonder if that would actually work or whether differentials would be restored, with women slightly better off in absolute but not relative terms?

  Ms McCulloch: Raising the minimum wage will deal with the symptoms but not with the cause of the problem. I believe again this is down to attitudes and people's attitude towards women's work, which has traditionally always been low paid. Although more women benefitted out of the minimum wage than men, that has only addressed the symptoms and not the cause.

  Q65 Linda Perham: You talk about symptoms but culturally we rate the caring professions lower than commercial ones. Do you think that is because those professions are dominated by women anyway: nursing and people working in care homes, that kind of work? People see that most of the people working in those sectors are women and therefore do not value the work, or is it that we just value something that looks as if it is connected with money or higher status than in those professions?

  Ms Dawson: This does not only apply to the caring professions. If you look at the printing sector, which I am most familiar with, the work that women do is not valued. If you go back to some of the research that people like Philips and Taylor did, it is quite clear that skilled work, valued work, is the work men do and that is the value that is put on it. For instance, in printing we would say that women have a variety of what you might call smaller skills. The cumulative effect of those skills is not taken into account in their pay. The men have these big skills of running the big print machines, and they do get value for that and they get all the extras that go with it. The women who run the smaller machines do not get the extras, for instance. There is very much this segregation of almost totally men in what are called the class one skilled occupations and women in the class three unskilled occupations.

  Q66 Linda Perham: I wonder how we change that and change attitudes and whether it is going to be an uphill battle. There are more women training as doctors now whereas previously there were not. For instance, there are more men in nursing but they tend to be the kind of charge nurse rather than the person at the lower level. Every profession that men go into they seem to get the top jobs. That could be a problem as well. I wonder how we change that and how quickly it could be changed, or do we have to be resigned to that taking a long time? Are there positive things that we, the Government, could do or that people who care about this can do?

  Ms Dawson: That question covers many of the questions here. It is a bit of both. Some of it is a long-term thing about changing attitudes. In the sectors I am most familiar with, I hear that even when men come in at a class three level, they rise much quicker; they get access to training much more quickly. Women do not get access to training. Even when a woman has been working on a machine for 20 years, she will not have been allowed to set that machine but she will have watched the men doing it for 20 years. They will not give her the right to set the machine because they would have to pay more if they do. She is then kept in this lower skilled occupation. There are all sorts of issues around access to training. This has been a big issue for the former GPMU and I think it was also for the old AEEU because we come from those old craft skilled sectors. Skills are what are valued and if you cannot gain access to those skills, you are not valued.

  Q67 Linda Perham: What can trade unions do to change the attitude of their members to so-called women's work?

  Ms McCulloch: For years trade unions have been addressing the situation internally by changing attitudes towards women. We find we are getting more and more women officers coming through in my own union and women going into senior positions within the union. We will continue to do that. We need to promote best practice. As an organisation, we need to reflect the value of women within our organisation and, hopefully, that will have an effect on employers when it filters down.

  Q68 Chairman: The point you seem to be making there is two-sided. One, when jobs come up that women could do just as easily as men, the employers choose men. Your fellow workers, the males, do not argue for women to get the jobs. No matter how many women officials you have in the union, you would need to change the culture of the membership, not really the structure of the union. It is not that the structure of the union does not need changing but that can be done comparatively easily. This is about getting your members and the employers with whom you negotiate to change their attitudes towards allowing women to have access to what would be hitherto male preserves.

  Ms Dawson: Touching on what the union has done, the GPMU moved very quickly during the 90s when it became the GPMU to address the fact that women were not represented in the structures of the union. We gained guaranteed proportional representation at all levels.

  Q69 Chairman: Except in the workplace?

  Ms Dawson: You are right. That in itself did not change things because women are one-third of the workforce in the printing industry, so they are in a minority anyway and they form only 17% of union membership. There is not a big enough critical mass there. When you are looking at changing the attitudes of our members, you have to look at the realities of the workplace. One of the things that men fear—and the evidence is there from academic study—is that when a lot of women come into a profession it becomes feminised and the rates of pay drop, so men see women as a threat. We have to overcome that fear. The whole issue of equal pay comes into this very much and the protection of the rates. We have had examples. We are one of the few areas where there have been examples of employers using the equal pay legislation to reduce rates in a sector of the industry back in the 1990s. They linked it to de-recognition of the union. Technology came in and destroyed compositors' jobs so that women could come in and do the jobs on keyboards but when they were brought in at up to £100 less than the men were currently earning, those men were not prepared to stay and work on those rates. So they offered them big packages of redundancy and, by default, those rates dropped by £100 per week. When you have that experience in your sector and you are trying to win men over to say, "Let us get women into these jobs", you have a hell of job to do.

  Q70 Chairman: Is what you describe commonplace or was it just an exception?

  Ms Dawson: It was in the provincial and national newspapers, so it was a whole sector of the printing industry that went down that route. Now that we are trying to get back in through the recognition laws, we are finding people doing those kinds of typesetting jobs on something like £8,500 a year. Historically that was an occupation that was paid extremely highly. You have a big problem there to convince the men that the women are not going to be a threat if they come in large numbers to skilled occupations. We need some kind of protection there to stop a reduction in rates.

  Q71 Mr Clapham: Do you feel that the loss of a lot of the industrial training boards might have been a set-back for changing attitudes in the workplace? I am thinking particularly about engineering. It would have provided a route whereby the unions could have worked with the training boards to ensure that women were brought through.

  Ms McCulloch: I would tend to agree with you there. We have had some breakthroughs in manufacturing, particularly in engineering. I will quote a company I used to work for, Philips, a big multinational company. For years and years women were traditionally doing unskilled jobs and could not progress into semi-skilled or skilled jobs. When you have a female factory convenor and half the workforce is women and half men, you just go in and keep on battering the management over the head. Eventually we got women progressing up through and into semi-skilled jobs. So it can be done but it is all about changing attitudes.

  Ms Dawson: Similarly, when the printing and publishing industry training board went that was disastrous in terms of trying to change the make-up of the skilled occupations. That is a sector with many small companies. Poaching is a scary thing to those companies. They are not going to invest in training if they know that Joe Bloggs up the road is going to poach that person. That is why we have been so big on pushing this idea of a sector-based training level. We need to have a level playing field to stop that kind of poaching going on. It also exacerbates the pay gap because you have skill shortages in the industry, very much in line with the EOC's recent research in plumbing and those sorts of areas. The men can bid up their pay because of the skill shortages and that just exacerbates the pay gap.

  Q72 Judy Mallaber: I am interested in the printer/compositor/typing issues. It strikes me that is very similar to originally what would now be called a secretary, a job done by men, personal assistants. When it became a female job, it had less status. This is rather depressing. Does it mean that the skill of the person doing the layout, the typing or work on the machine is slightly different from being on the block in the traditional printer's way of doing it? It is still highly skilled and your top designers and layout people may get a lot of work. Would you think that that means by definition when a skill becomes associated with women the value of it is going to be downgraded? If so, it makes it quite hard to see how we deal with the issue.

  Ms Dawson: That was the experience in that sector. It does become more complex than that because there are still men doing those jobs. They tend to differentiate the work the men do from what the women do. We have taken equal pay cases, for instance, where you have women on the front desk taking adverts, dealing with money and the public, and doing the basic typesetting of the ads, the births, deaths and marriages and things. You have the men behind the scenes doing the display ads. They are paid more than the women. That is because the women's skills in handling the money and the public and so on are not valued. In equal value terms, they would add up to the skills the men have in displaywork but those people skills are not brought into the equation when defining what the jobs are worth. It does become more complex than just saying that women automatically devalue the work.

  Q73 Judy Mallaber: If a woman was doing the display ads, would that still be regarded as being a more skilled job than some of the other jobs?

  Ms Dawson: I think if the union was in there, it would be. Where we have been de-recognised, I think there would be some attempt to reduce those rates. That has been our experience in trying to get back into those areas we were pushed out of and where these things happened. Where the union is present and you can get women in, there is still a chance of holding up the rates. Where that happened in provincial newspapers, it was coupled with de-recognition of the union, so there was not even the ability of the union to fight to hold those rates.

  Q74 Mr Evans: I declare my interest as per the Register of Members' Interests. Women getting pregnant and then being sacked illegally: do you think this happens a lot?

  Ms McCulloch: It does. The EOC has just done a report on that.

  Ms Dawson: Sacking is one thing that does happen. Let us say that sometimes the situation is made so difficult that the women leave. There are all sorts of other quite obvious discriminations that go on. One example I had a while back was of an employer who was not prepared to pay sick pay to a woman who was pregnant. When I challenged him and said that was discrimination, he said, "But if I pay her sick pay, they will all get pregnant". You really do not expect to hear that in this day and age, but those attitudes are still there. I know in the areas you are concerned about the issues about parental leave do come up. Clearly these are all cost issues for employers. My point on the issue around parental leave, and the question about women in particular taking parental leave, is not just about women taking parental leave; it should be about men and women taking parental leave. The whole point of that legislation coming in was to start breaking down the occupational segregation in the home so that there is more of a level playing field there. As long as women are the target audience and men are not being brought into this, there is always going to be a means of saying that women are a cost to the company.

  Q75 Mr Evans: The fact is that in reality, although men have the opportunity to take paternity leave, they are not doing that to any extent such as the women are doing it. Clearly that then leads on to other questions. I want to tackle the point about employers sacking women for becoming pregnant. It is illegal. I do not know how many challenges there are against this sort of thing for unfair dismissal. Clearly, as you say, it might not just be that the employer cannot say, "Oh, gosh, you are pregnant, you are sacked". It is for other reasons, is it not? You say they just make it difficult so that, in the end, the women cannot stand it any more and leave.

  Ms Dawson: Of course, certainly in the sectors I am most familiar with, there have been a lot of redundancies in the last four or five years.

  Q76 Mr Evans: Do the women go first?

  Ms Dawson: Yes. There is a means of doing it. If you are there in the 15th week before the baby is due, then you get all your rights anyway. I think there was one woman who would have qualified for maternity leave but she was made redundant two days before that. That kind of thing goes on. Many cases that come to me are about stopping this before it gets to that level. People come to me, I give them advice, and they can stop it happening. Clearly there are many challenges and ways in which people are trying to manipulate the law to find ways to get the women out.

  Q77 Mr Evans: Then there is the hidden discrimination which is that women then may be overlooked for promotion and they may not be chosen for key jobs, therefore better paid jobs, simply because they are women. Do you see that as a problem? I know you welcomed maternity and paternity leave. You recognise as well that it is a cost to employers and has significant impacts on smaller businesses. Do you see this as a key issue and what do you think can be done about tackling that sort of discrimination?

  Ms Dawson: To complete what I was saying about the men taking paternity leave, the reality is that men are not going to do that while the work is so lowly paid or while there is no pay for parental leave. When we say that men can take it but they are not doing so, if you have a printer on £500 plus a week, he is not going to take a week off on low pay. The default scheme under the parental leave regulations has been a disaster because employers do no more than the default scheme. If somebody wants to take just one day's parental leave, they are forced to take a week and no-one is going to take that week with no pay. The way that some of the regulations are put together is deeply unhelpful in dealing with these issues.

  Ms McCulloch: With regard to paternity leave, we do have some examples of really good employers out there with regard to paternity leave. We have agreements in which people were achieving paternity leave in 1996 at a full week's pay. Obviously that was before the regulations came into force. We do have some good companies out there with good examples. Even when the regulations did come in for paternity pay, those companies upped that to two weeks paid paternity leave at the normal rate of pay. It would be great if we could convince the rest of the employers to do the same. With regard to maternity leave, obviously we welcomed the extension of maternity leave, but there are lots of women out there who cannot afford to take nine months' maternity leave at the current rates for maternity leave.

  Ms Dawson: You mentioned women being bypassed for promotion. There is another angle to that. Quite often, any woman who does take maternity leave comes back and is forced on to a low-grade job. It can be ridiculous. There was one woman on a machine in a direct mail company who only took 15 weeks and came back and the employer said, "You have been away for a few weeks so you had better go on this low-rated machine". That is unlawful but unless those people know that it is unlawful and know to challenge it, we do not have the opportunity to get in there. That was a company where we were not recognised, so it was very difficult to do that much anyway.

  Q78 Chairman: Do you think that there should be some kind of fact sheet or information given to a woman when she discovers she is pregnant and goes to the doctor or goes to a clinic? Should there be more advice about the rates? Not only are women perhaps traditionally in lower paid jobs, in low esteem situations, but also they may not be unionised and they might not have any idea of their rights and no means of learning those rights. After all, most women are probably pregnant no more than about three times in their life. There is not a lot of knowledge about this when it comes down to it. At the moment, I would think the level of ignorance about this amongst women must be very high. Do you think even just providing a fact sheet when they go to the doctor or to the clinic would help? The doctor would probably want to be paid for handing out that fact sheet.

  Ms McCulloch: Maternity clinics could issue a booklet called Know your rights when you are pregnant. That would help. We produce loads of publications on maternity rights. You are right, there are many women out there who are not involved in trade unions and probably do not know their rights. I think an A5-sized booklet that they could pick up at a maternity clinic would be a great idea.

  Ms Dawson: To add to that: you should include the flexibility regulations in that. One of the big issues that comes to me is about women wanting to return on part-time hours. Out of interest, more men are in this situation now because more men are getting custody of children or joint custody. They have just as hard a time as the women do because obviously they run the machines and the employer does not want them to be off those machines. We are starting to see this becoming a much bigger problem for men as well as women. Anything that can be done to let people know what their rights are in this regard would be really helpful.

  Q79 Linda Perham: Men could also be carers of elderly relatives?

  Ms Dawson: Yes, that is right.

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