AS the cost of living crisis continues to bite, the news about recent CEO pay figures will leave a sour taste in many mouths, but is particularly galling to those working in the most undervalued roles, the majority of whom are women. A new report from the High Pay Centre has shown that FTSE 100 CEO pay increased from £3.38m in 2021 to £3.91m in 2022. Median CEO pay is now 118 times that of the median UK full-time worker, compared to 108 times in 2021 and 79 times in 2020.

But if there is a statistic to remember - one to be searingly etched into the brain of every low-paid worker reading this column - it’s that the bosses of the UK’s 100 biggest listed companies collected an average £500,000 pay rise last year. This is while many ordinary workers had to resort to strike action to just get a pay increase that staved off the cuts left by inflation to their pay packet. Next time your elected officials, bosses or employer tell you there’s no money left, call them out. Expose the hollow fallacy that those who control the purse strings - the politicians, bankers and wealthy executives - want you to believe; remind them that if it’s good enough for those at the top, it’s more than deserved for those workers who put them there. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the top five earners are men, with only one woman featuring in the top 10. This world of exceptionally high wages and bonuses is a far cry from the working lives of most women in Scotland.

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This is a stark difference from the women I met recently at the STUC Women’s Weekend School. These women, from across our affiliate trade unions, know how difficult it is to be an ordinary working woman in this economy. At the weekend school, they learn key skills to be able to participate fully in the trade union movement, a historically male-dominated environment. The course builds confidence, hones debating skills and sharpens their public speaking. All qualities that, due to systemic failings and inherent inequalities in our workplaces that permeate throughout society, keep women confined. The women who attended were from a wide range of backgrounds: carers, caterers, cleaners, classroom assistants, teachers and nurses. All workers who are determined to make their workplaces better and our economy fairer.

These women are not short of lived experience. They know what it’s like to work in low-paid sectors, to struggle to juggle working and caring due to ludicrously high childcare costs, to struggle to feed their kids and keep their homes warm. They know first-hand that our economy is rigged against them.

They know what it’s like to have your own work devalued. Women's work has long been marginalised here at home and around the world. This systemic devaluation is deeply rooted in historical and cultural biases that have perpetuated gender inequality. For too long have roles associated with caregiving, such as childcare and cleaning, been assigned to women and deemed less important or skilled, despite their vital contributions to families and communities. It's a contribution and a level of self-sacrifice that I believe will be continually highlighted as we embark on the Scottish Covid Inquiry.

Even in sectors where women have broken through barriers and glass ceilings, they often encounter wage disparities and a lack of recognition for their work. This devaluation of women's work not only hinders economic empowerment but also embeds a broader societal perception that the contributions of women are secondary. Recognising and rectifying this devaluation is essential for achieving gender equality and fostering a fair and just society.

And achieve it we will because women workers are fighting back and our struggles lie at the heart of a 21st-century trade union movement. The Glasgow equal pay strike of 2018 marked a significant moment in the fight for workers' rights and recognition of the essential work done by care workers, caterers, cleaners and more. These dedicated workers, overwhelmingly women, took to the streets demanding equal pay to men employed by the same local authority and carrying out similar work.

Their struggle highlighted the contradiction of a society that heavily relies on what is seen as women’s work while undervaluing women’s contributions.

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The Glasgow equal pay strike brought attention to the broader issue of underfunding and neglect in the care sector, shedding light on the urgent need for reform and respect for those who tirelessly care for the vulnerable in our communities. This strike served as a catalyst for a much-needed conversation about the value of women’s work, care work and the imperative of ensuring that those who provide it are treated fairly and with the dignity they deserve. But most shocking of all is that Glasgow represents just the tip of the iceberg and equal pay remains a running sore across our public sector.

So this fight continues with school support staff across Scotland voting to strike this autumn. The workers, consisting of cleaners, caterers, classroom assistants and administration staff are predominately women. It’s been reported that some workers have had to go to food banks and claim universal credit as their wages are so low. An accurate moment to remind you, reader, that the average pay increase for CEOs was £500,000. Our economy may be suffering, but politicians need to understand that women workers are the answer.

They’re not the ones who, even the International Monetary Fund admits, are fuelling inflation; it’s the profiteers who are doing that. The cleaning and administration staff of your local primary school aren’t investing their money in a complicated property network based in the Cayman Islands, they’re spending their money in their local communities. They are putting money back into our economy and leading the charge in calling for fairness and equality within their workplace.

Change is coming and, even if it’s far too slow for my liking, we are seeing glimpses of progress. Women make up the majority of union members and are increasingly taking on leadership roles within them. Two of the biggest unions, Unite and Unison, are led by strong, fearless women in Sharon Graham and Christine McAnea. The TUC, until recently, was headed up by Frances O’Grady whilst Shavanah Taj leads the Wales TUC. This is personal. I have two daughters about to enter the workforce. I want to see their work valued and remunerated fairly. If there is such a thing as legacy, then I owe it to them and the fearless women who came before them to redress this power imbalance.

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress