Britain’s women earn on average only half as much as men, putting the country well behind comparable West European nations, a report said on Tuesday.
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), a government-funded independent organization, called for changes in the way Britain deals with sex discrimination in wages.
It said Britain had some of the strongest equality laws in the European Community but their complexity prevented many women bringing cases against their employers.
A 1984 provision allows women to claim equal pay with men who may not be doing similar work but are employed in jobs considered to be of equal value.
The EOC called for claims to be simplified and for new rules to allow benefits won by a successful claimant to be passed on to other women in the same position.
European Community figures showed wages for women manual workers in Britain in 1987 to be 32% less than those of men, while the wage gap for non-manual work was 46%.
The figures compared to 17% and 31% respectively for Italy, which had the smallest wage gap of the 12 European Community countries.
EOC Chief Executive Alan Hart told a news conference the statistics did not take account of overtime or part-time work. If included, these would make Britain’s wage gap more than 50%, he said.