Equality laws have failed to close gap in wages: Women's pay is still only 79% of men's despite twenty years of legislation. Barrie Clement reports

NEARLY 20 years of legislation aimed at outlawing discrimination against women has failed to have any significant impact on their pay, according to the government- funded Equal Oportunities Commission.

In a statistical summary of women's place in the economy published today, the commission points out that the difference between average gross hourly wages for men and women has improved little since equality laws were introduced in the mid-Seventies.

The figures are published in the wake of the Government's rejection of a plea from the commission that equality legislation should be streamlined and that the legal process should be speeded up.

The commission reports the 'stark fact' that last year earnings for full-time female employees represented 79 per cent of men's pay. In 1975 the figure was 71 per cent.

The only area where the position of women has improved significantly is in Wales, where their earnings have climbed from 69 per cent of men's pay to 84 per cent. That increase, however, mainly reflects a drop in the comparative level of men's pay.

Most women in employment remain concentrated in low-paid and low-status jobs. Women fill three out of four clerical and secretarial posts, but hold only one- third of managerial and administrative jobs.

The commission points out that 45 per cent of female employees are part-timers, with fewer prospects for promtion and career development and inferior benefits. Amid limited childcare provision, two in threee female employees with children under five work part time. Yet only 52 per cent of mothers with children this age are economically active.

About 17 per cent of women from ethnic minorities are out of work, compared with 7 per cent among white females. The highest jobless rate is 28 per cent for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women.

The employment situation is reflected in educational subjects chosen by boys and girls. In both England and Wales, boys still follow tradition in outnumbering girls in obtaining GCSE grades A to C in physics, chemistry and computer studies. Boys are also more likely to secure A-levels in mathematics.

In higher education, seven times more men than women study computing at university and fewer young women are undergraduates in mathematics, physics and chemistry. However, as traditional jobs decline, boys face restricted prospects through relatively lower percentage success than girls in arts subjects.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the EOC, said that the facts belied the fiction in some circles that the struggle for sex equality was no longer necessary. 'While certain progress has been made, the statistics underline how much further there is to go.'

Security guards are paid as little as pounds 1.79 an hour and can be expected to work up to 100 hours a week, according to the Low Pay Network. Shifts are rarely shorter than 12 hours and regularly require guards to work overnight, with no overtime premiums or bonus rates for unsociable hours, the pressure group found in a survey of Jobcentre vacancies.