We are a long time from when Barbara Castle – the then Labour government’s Employment Minister – had a meeting with the women of Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968 during their strike over equal pay. We were reminded of this important moment in history in recent years by the 2010 film “Made in Dagenham”.
The film re-wrote historical events to satisfy the classic British comedy format that we have all come to love, but in my opinion, it therefore failed to illustrate the real struggle to secure equal pay for equal work. For the women of the time and for women today, this fight for equality is still very real and following the recent 50 year anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, we must be very self-critical of what our society has actually achieved in this respect.
It is fair to say that in recent decades, the treatment of women in the workplace has improved and I absolutely celebrate this.
But discrimination still exists, and the gender pay gap for all employed people remains at 17%.
There are good examples of businesses in Chester who have taken up the challenge of equal pay and gender equality. However, I remain conscious of meetings I attend which are dominated by men and we still have work to do to address the overall pay differences between men and women in the workplace in this country.
Underneath the comedy of the script writing, “Made in Dagenham” portrayed the complexity of life for women leaders, with the protagonist having to balance her role in a 1960s patriarchal household with the passion and commitment she felt towards her fight for equal pay.
The coronavirus pandemic has held up many mirrors to our society and one of them has been the fragility of what has been achieved in terms of gender equality. In recent months, many women have found themselves back in the home and balancing the management of their household against the pressures of their careers in a manner akin to the time of the Dagenham strike. It has led the UN and the World Economic Forum to issue warnings that the pandemic could set women’s economic progress back by half a century.
We cannot let this happen.
Ordinary British families miss out when out-dated attitudes of employers or the failure of governments to act mean that equal pay for equal work is not attained for all earners in a household. The years ahead will be tough enough, without us losing ground in battles that have already been hard won.