The stark inequalities within the UK job market was exposed yesterday by official figures showing the lowest paid received their worst pay rise for a decade while City traders' salaries vaulted the £100,000 mark.
The average pay of a male worker in the parliamentary constituency that includes London's Canary Wharf financial district rose 22 per cent to more than £101,000.
The figures for Poplar and Canning Town - one of the poorest constituencies in the country - were plainly distorted by a small number of high earners in the investment banks that dominate the skyline.
While the median male salary, which takes a mid-point for all workers, was £46,149, the average mean salary - that gives more weight to seven-figure pay packets - was £101,322.
The surge in salaries contributed to a further widening in the gap between the best and worst-paid in the labour market, according to an annual survey by the Office for National Statistics.
The top 10 per cent of the labour market received an average increase of 4.4 per cent. But the average weekly earnings of the bottom tenth in the pay scale rose by just 2.3 per cent this year, according to a survey of almost 170,000 people in April.
It was the lowest increase since 1995. The gap between the top and bottom of the pay scale has widened in each of the last 25 years other than two years under the current Government - 1999 and 2003 - when poorer workers benefited from the launch and then a major increase in the national minimum wage.
Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, said: "Well paid people's earnings are growing twice as fast as those of the lowest paid. If the Government is going to meet its target for reducing child poverty, then the benefits of historic economic stability and employment growth will have to be better shared."
John Philpott, the chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said it showed the labour market offered a "high reward for high performance". But he added: "The widening gap between top earners and those struggling in the bottom reaches of the labour market highlights the need for much greater effort to improve the basic skills and earning power of less skilled workers."
However, the gender pay gap narrowed thanks to a surge in public sector pay awards that tended to boost women's pay more than men's. The average increase, measured as the median, for all workers was 2.8 per cent, with women's pay rising by 3.9 per cent compared with 2.5 per cent for men.
The acceleration in pay rates for female workers helped narrow the gender gap - although women still earn around four-fifths of male salaries.
The gender pay gap measured on hourly incomes excluding overtime narrowed to 17.2 per cent from 17.8 per cent in 2004. The ONS said women had benefited from higher increases in public sector pay.
Bob Watson, the ONS' statistician who compiled the report, said: "That would certainly have had some impact. There are also a higher proportion of women moving into occupations that are associated with higher earnings than previously."
Peter Talibart, the global head of employment at the law firm Norton Rose, said a growing number of high-profile cases had shown employers they could not discriminate on the basis of gender over pay levels. "Women who are paid less for doing the same job as a man know that they can bring a strong case against their employer, and an employer who does so takes an irresponsible risk," he said.
...but easyJet ground staff are Poles apart in pay league
A group of Polish workers employed by easyJet and the distribution company John Menzies yesterday received an instant and unexpected wage rise after a union pointed out they were paid less than their British counterparts.
Management insisted that the Eastern Europeans were paid just 5p an hour less than the £6.55 rate for ground-handling work at Luton, but the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G) said it had been told they had been paid nearer £5 an hour.
Big Orange Handling - 74 per cent owned by Menzies and 26 per cent easyJet - said it was "grateful" to T&G for pointing out that the disparity. A spokesman for the company said there had been an "unacceptable administrative error". He said the agency employing the Poles would be instructed to backdate the pay increase and that talks were due to finish this week on including the agency workers in the company's bonus scheme.
A spokesman for T&G registered scepticism about management's claim that the pay gap was only 5p. "The easyJet chief executive Ray Webster rang our regional official four times yesterday afternoon after we put the statement out. He has never deigned to call before. That was a measure of their embarrassment. We were told that the Poles were being paid about £5 an hour."
Union officials had threatened to take industrial action in support of what they believed was "exploitation" of the Polish workers.
John Street, the T&G regional organiser, said the union would be conducting an investigation into the conditions of the Polish workers and the agency that was bringing them to Britain.
Meanwhile, the GMB general union has lodged a claim for sex discrimination on behalf of a group of female office workers at the Morrisons supermarket group.
The women, based in an office at South Shields, have been offered redundancy terms which the union estimates to be one-third of that offered to men at distribution depots. The women are also taking part in a consultative ballot on industrial action.
Steve Gibbon, at the union, said an intervention in the dispute by the rival union Usdaw was unwelcome. The company says that Usdaw is the officially recognised union for the women workers.
Barrie Clement, Labour EditorReuse content