Report on women's job inequality `suppressed'

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The Independent Online
A document that paints a devastating picture of the impact of key Conservative competition policies on women workers has allegedly been suppressed by the head of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The report on compulsory competitive tendering (CCT), a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent, found that the process creates poverty among women through increasing unemployment, wage-cutting and the imposition of inferior working conditions. Competition for local authority contracts is expected to intensify, making matters even worse for women, it says.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the commission, a former Conservative activist and personal appointee of the Prime Minister, has allegedly delayed publication of the document, completed a year ago. A 13-page "executive summary" was leaked to the Independent because it was feared that a "sanitised" version would be issued soon.

In a study of 39 councils it was found that nearly 13,000 jobs had disappeared in four key services - largely as a consequence of CCT - and that 97 per cent of them had been held by women. The employment of black people was found to be minimal except in the least-paid and lowest status jobs, and the scope for taking on disabled people had been considerably reduced.

Men were found to have fared better from the process in terms of pay than women. Inequalities in wages and conditions between part-time female workers and full-timers, who were mostly men, had grown.

In return for greater productivity, the wages of male refuse collectors, for instance, had risen, but higher productivity among predominantly female cleaners and caterers had been achieved through, "cutting jobs, hours, holiday retainers and in some cases pay rates".

Compulsory tendering involves billions of pounds and has affected mostly manual jobs, but is being extended to more than 200,000 white-collar posts.

The report found that growing "casualisation" through the use of temporary contracts has created a climate of "uncertainty and insecurity". A reduction in hours had forced women to take several jobs of a few hours each to maintain their wages.

The report says: "The combined effect of cuts in hours and thus income, increased insecurity through temporary employment, the loss of employment rights and benefits as a result of employers avoiding National Insurance contribution thresholds, and the loss of other conditions of service such as holidays, has had the effect of lowering the quality of many jobs in local government, particularly for women."

The strategy had increased reliance on state benefits and induced poverty.

The findings are embarrassing to the Government because ministers insist they are committed to equal opportunities, but also consider CCT to be one of their flagship policies.

On behalf of Ms Bahl, Peter Naish, chief executive of the commission, said the findings would be published in March or possibly early April.

He said the analysis would not be changed "to any great extent", and no more than other reports produced by the commission. "It has gone through the same academic process," he said.