By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed on Tuesday to end the country's gender pay gap in a generation, calling it a "scandal" that a woman in Britain earns only 80 percent of a man's pay.
Large firms in Britain will be required to publish the average pay of their male and female employees, and this will put pressure on them to pay women more, Cameron said in an article published by The Times newspaper.
"We will make every single company with 250 employees or more publish the gap between average female earnings and average male earnings," Cameron said.
"That will cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women's wages up."
Cameron said a target set in 2011, to have 25 percent of board positions at Britain's 100 biggest stock exchange-listed companies filled by women, had been met, but added that more must be done to help them reach higher leadership positions.
Women make up 47 percent of Britain's workforce, but only 34 percent of managers, directors and senior officials are women. Only 7 percent of engineers and one fifth of IT technicians are women, according to official data.
In the European Union (EU) as a whole, women were paid 16.4 percent less than men on average in 2013, statistics agency Eurostat said, and United States Census Bureau data show women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, based on annual median salaries.
Cameron said that girls needed to know that "there are no no-go professions" and pledged to help women going back to work after having children by improving childcare support.
"Transparency, skills, representation, affordable childcare - these things can end the gender pay gap in a generation," he said.
The Fawcett Society, a campaign group that promotes women's rights in the labor market, welcomed the initiative, but said companies must publish clear data and act to reduce the pay gap.
"Although we are pleased that the government is now moving to regulate companies of over 250 employees to publish their pay gap - something that Fawcett campaigned long and hard for - we will be watching to ensure that the regulations are clear and fair," Fawcett said in a statement.
"There is a danger that we could see be a bit of smoke and mirrors around how this will work."
The government, which had previously said it wanted to make publishing such data mandatory, will open a consultation on how to design the new regulations and how to encourage greater and more diverse female participation in the labor market.
"Mandatory auditing and reporting of gender pay disparities for larger employers is welcome and long overdue," Elizabeth George, employment barrister at law firm Leigh Day, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It was first proposed as part of the Labour government reforms in the Equality Act 2010 but not brought into force by the coalition. We have lost 5 years and in that time, the gender pay gap has remained rooted and in some sectors has grown."
According to Eurostat, the gender pay gap in the European Union ranges from less than 10 percent in Slovenia, Malta, Poland, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg and Romania, to more than 20 percent in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, and almost 30 percent in Estonia.
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(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce; please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)