HR & Management

'Rigid' workplace leaves women over 50 underpaid and in poverty

3 min read

27 February 2014

Women over 50 are finding it difficult to balance their careers with caring responsibilities, leading to years of low pay and poverty in retirement due to a rigid workplace culture, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) claimed.

The TUC report showed that while a record number of women are in work, many are trapped in low-paid jobs and struggling to balance their work life with other responsibilities.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Women in their 50s are the first generation of women to have been protected by equal pay and sex discrimination laws throughout their careers. They were also the first women to have access to paid maternity leave, though many struggled on their return to work as few employers offered flexible working.

“Despite these huge strides, women over 50 are paid a fifth less per hour than men, and many are trapped in low-paid work, with an ever-longer wait for their retirement. This generation of women has been let down.”

The TUC called on employers to have a ‘more enlightened’ attitude to these caring responsibilities, and said this needs to be underpinned by new employment rights.

The report called for the introduction of several new rights, including five to ten days of paid carers’ leave per year, an unpaid leave entitlement and a period of statutory adjustment leave for crisis situations.

However, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have criticised TUC’s proposals.

John Wastnage, head of employment & skills at BCC, said: “The TUC’s proposals to introduce a statutory entitlement to carers’ leave, additional annual leave for anyone who is a grandparent and adjustment leave would make employing older workers a real headache for many businesses. 

“Older workers already face higher than average unemployment rates, and some may fear that these proposals could further reduce their employment chances. Creating additional rights for grandparents may also lead to resentment in the workplace from younger colleagues forced to take on extra work while they care for their grandchildren.”

Wastnage said that the BCC welcomed however the government’s plan to introduce Shared Parental Leave “which will make it easier for women to return to work sooner after giving birth and reduce the disruption to their careers.”

Other TUC key findings:

  • The gender pay gap for women over 50 working full-time is twice as high as it is for younger women;
  • Almost half of women over 50 care for at least one of their parents, while 39 per cent are caring for their own children; and
  • Older women feel more at risk from public sector cuts, as opposed to private sector.

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