Letter: Why women need wages councils

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with concern your article on low pay and wages councils ('Shephard faces clash on women's low pay', 21 September) and wish to clarify the position of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Over a number of years, we have supported the retention of the wages councils as a way of combatting discrimination, alongside equal pay legislation.

Employed women are still particularly vulnerable to discrimination arising from the general undervaluation of their skills, which leads to low status and low pay. It is no accident, therefore, that women form three-quarters of those protected by the Wages Act 1986 and are clustered at the lower end of earnings. These low-paid workers include significant numbers of black and ethnic minority women and lone parents.

In today's rapidly changing economic, demographic and social climate, women must be enabled to achieve their own economic independence. They are not in the workforce for 'pin money' - they are increasingly there out of sheer necessity. Not only do household bills need women's wages, but women themselves need decent pay to enable them to stand on their own feet and deal with eventualities now and in the future. To help women achieve this genuine economic independence, we must continue to challenge attitudes, cultures, practices and market conditions that fail to provide women, in particular, with decent pay and prospects.

Our vision and our mission is to help secure a society that understands and values equality of opportunity and status for women and men as a fundamental aspect of human rights. Until this is achieved, the safety net provided for some women by the wages councils should be maintained.

Yours faithfully,

JOANNA FOSTER

Chair

Equal Opportunities Commission

Manchester

24 September

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