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26 June 2017, 07:14
Ministers are being urged to develop an "overarching strategy'' to tackle the gender pay gap, with a committee of MSPs insisting that Scotland could be a "world leader'' in promoting greater equality.
Members of the Scottish Parliament's Economy Jobs and Fair Work Committee have made a series of recommendations, which they believe could "set the groundwork'' for this task.
Suggestions include giving "serious consideration'' to increasing the wages for care workers - most of whom are female - to a level above the Living Wage.
This would not only help reduce the gender pay gap, but would also encourage more men to work in the care sector, the report said.
MSPs also want the Scottish Government to set a target for tackling the issue in the National Performance Framework, setting out what should be achieved by when, arguing this would "help focus efforts''.
While the Scottish Government calculates the gender pay gap in Scotland to be 6%, MSPs said they were "not persuaded that this accurately and conclusively'' represents the difference between male and female earnings.
Instead they said the overall hourly pay gap of 16% was a "more representative picture of the gender pay gap in Scotland''.
Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst said: "The committee is clear there is a gender pay issue for Scotland's workforce. Women across Scotland's economy are still concentrated in low-paid jobs and part-time work. The pay gap primarily affects women and isn't just attributable to women choosing to start a family or to take time out of their careers.''
The reasons behind the problem are "deep-seated and wide-ranging and need to be tackled in a number of policy areas'', the committee said, with action needed in areas such as education, skills, childcare, procurement, business support, and the work of the enterprise agencies.
"Therefore, the committee recommends that the Scottish Government produce an overarching strategy to address the gender pay gap, including an action plan and measurable targets.
"The committee acknowledges the willingness of the Scottish Government to address the issue, and feels there is an opportunity here for Scotland to become a world leader in reducing the gender pay gap. This report and the committee's recommendations are intended to set the groundwork for this.''
The MSPs said the care sector - which includes those who work in childcare and adult/elderly care - is "undervalued'' but is also a "growing and central part of Scotland's economy''.
They urged the Government to make it a "priority sector'' with funding to match this, and said: "To have a transformational effect on reducing the gender pay gap, serious consideration should be given to increasing wages in care beyond the living wage to more accurately reflect the value of the work undertaken.''
All employers should carry out "equal pay audits'' to ensure that wages "do not discriminate on grounds of gender''.
The report recommended ministers develop a "suite of indicators'' to measure the underlying causes of the gender pay gap, and also said more work should be done on the economic benefits of tackling the issue.
Mr Lindhurst said: "Each and every one of us is likely to rely on professional care at some time in our lives. Despite the radical change in skills over the years, this continues to be one of the lowest-paying, female-worker dominated sectors in Scotland.
"We want to see the Government address this issue by prioritising the care sector; it is vital that we raise the status of care in Scotland.''
He added: "Supporting everyone - both female and male - in all our sectors to achieve their full economic potential will take ambition, innovation and, for some, a shift in cultural thinking.
"But it is within the Scottish Government's power to help make this happen, and the benefits for Scotland's economy could be significant.''
Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn said: "Closing the gender pay gap is a priority, both in terms of promoting equality and boosting economic growth, and we will consider this report carefully.
"We are already taking decisive action to address the issue, including transforming early learning and childcare to support more women back into work, as well as taking measures to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
"We are also funding returners' programmes that will help women returners get back into work after a career break - such as that delivered by Equate Scotland, which is helping women re-join the labour market by offering targeted support.
"While the gap in Scotland of 6.2% is well below the UK figure of 9.4%, we are not complacent and recognise we must remain focused on action to promote gender pay equality.''