LONDON (Reuters) - Companies will be encouraged to publish the pay gap between their male and female employees under proposed laws to encourage women to complain when they are underpaid, the government said on Thursday.
Equality Minister Harriet Harman told BBC radio she wanted to tackle entrenched pay discrimination against women and to create a workforce more representative of society.
The legislation would also permit positive discrimination in favour of female and ethnic-minority job candidates with equal qualifications.
It would also outlaw discrimination against the elderly in social and health services.
“It’s about ... making sure we have a society which is fair for individuals and more at peace with itself, and also an economy which is more diverse and outward looking,” said Harman.
Public sector employers and suppliers to the public sector would be required to publish figures showing their average gender pay gap.
Private sector companies would be only be encouraged rather than forced to follow suit, but Harman said she expected most would do so.
“We have structural discrimination on pay and we will be able to see it clearly for the first time, workplace by workplace,” she said.
“Women will be able to see they are paid less than men and will be able to complain about it and challenge it.”
Women in full-time employment earn 17 percent less than men, with the gap widening to 36 percent for women working part-time, according to government data.
Figures for Whitehall departments show men on average earning 26 percent more than women in the Treasury, 21 percent more in the Department for Transport and 7 percent in the Department for Work and Pensions.
Positive discrimination in favour of women or ethnic minority candidates would be permitted, for example where a company wanted to boost the level of senior female staff.
Police forces wanting to increase the proportion of black or ethnic-minority officers could also take advantage of the new laws to make their constabularies more representative of their local district, Harman said.
Editing by Steve Addison