Bigger rises for better-off widen the earnings gap

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The Independent Online

Economics Editor

Finance and medicine are the most lucrative occupations, while petrol- pump attendants and kitchen staff earn the least, according to figures published by the Central Statistical Office yesterday.

Average gross weekly earnings increased by 3.6 per cent in the year to April 1995, according to the annual New Earnings Survey. Women did better than men, with their pay advancing by 4 per cent compared with men's 3.3 per cent. However, female average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, are only four-fifths of male earnings.

The survey showed the earnings gap has continued to widen. Gross weekly earnings of the bottom 10 per cent of full-time workers increased by only 1.1 per cent compared with a 3.4 per cent rise for those in the top 10 per cent.

Harriet Harman, Labour employment spokeswoman, said: "Britain is growing more divided. The rich are pulling ahead leaving everyone else behind."

She said the survey "totally underestimates the scandalous extent of low pay" because its use of PAYE records meant it excludes 2.3 million workers earning less than pounds 58 a week, mainly part-time.

Ms Harman reiterated Labour's commitment to a minimum wage. According to Chris Trinder, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (Cipfa), the figures meant the minimum wage would have to be pounds 4.26 an hour rather than the pounds 4.15 for 1994. But using a different formula - half of median hourly earnings for men and women - the survey suggests a figure of pounds 3.54.

The new figures debunk the widely held perception that professionals and managers are taking the brunt of a shift to longer working hours. Male manual workers have much longer hours than any other category - on average 45 hours compared with 39 hours a week for non-manual male workers.

Lorry drivers, plant and crane drivers, quarry workers and metal furnace operators all chalked up 50-hour weeks. But highly graded general managers in government and large companies worked 37.5 hours a week and male medical professionals 42 hours.

Manual workers need to work such long hours because pay differentials continue to leave unskilled workers behind. Full-time hourly earnings, excluding overtime, rose by just 1.9 per cent for manual workers in the year to April 1995, while those for non-manual employees rose by 4.1 per cent.

According to Cipfa, public sector pay was squeezed for the second year running. Public sector pay rose by 3.4 per cent while private sector pay rose by 3.7 per cent. But the CSO said a new classification method made comparison difficult.

Who earns what?

Average gross weekly earnings (pounds )

Men Women All

Full-time 375 270 336

Full-time manual 291 188 272

Full-time non manual 443 288 372

Part-time 126 102 105

Full-time earnings per week (pounds )

All adults 336

Treasurers and company financial managers 797

Medical practitioners 764

Solicitors 585

Software engineers 493

Police officers (sergeant and below) 439

Sales reps 356

Nurses 329

Laboratory technicians 296

Goods drivers 276

Telephone operators 243

Receptionists 188

Petrol pump attendants 152