WOMEN in some parts of Cheshire have been effectively working for free for two months this year – with another six weeks to go.

Today, November 20, is the Fawcett Society’s Equal Pay Day – the day when UK women effectively begin working for free for the rest of 2020, based on their average earnings compared to men.

However, figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that women in Cheshire East – including Knutsford and Middlewich – earn a median average hourly salary of £10.99, compared to £15.29 for men.

In effect, this means that over the course of the working year, women across the borough will have worked without pay since September 21.

Women in Cheshire West, including Northwich and Winsford, fare better their neighbours according to the ONS statistics – with a median average salary of £12.84 compared to £13.80 for men.

This means that in effect, women across the borough will work for free from December 8 until the end of the calendar year.

The ONS data uses wages recorded in April this year, and hourly figures are used to remove the effect of overtime, while the median average is used to stop the figures being skewed by particularly small or large wages.

Nationally, women earn a median average wage of £12.50 an hour, compared to £14.79 for men.

That means the gender pay gap for women in 2020 is 15.5 per cent in favour of men – down from 17.4 per cent in 2019.

The Fawcett Society says that while the fall in the gender pay gap is welcome, the impact of coronavirus could ‘turn the clock back for a generation’.

Sam Smethers, chief executive at the gender equality charity, said: “Mothers are more likely to have had their work disrupted due to unequal caring roles and a lack of childcare.

“Men are more likely to have worked under furlough, and to have had their pay topped up.

“The second lockdown looks set to hit women working in hospitality and retail hard while predominantly male-dominated sectors like construction and manufacturing are still at work.”

The Fawcett Society also warns that a quarter of employers are missing from the ONS data this year because of disruptions caused by Covid-19.

Pay discrimination is prohibited by law, but the charity says it persists because employers can too easily hide salary information.

Other factors include women doing more part-time work often as mothers or carers, an undervaluing of the types of work women do, a lack of women entering some well-paid careers such as engineering, and the failure to promote women within organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is calling on the Government to make it mandatory for employers to publish action plans about how they will cut their gender pay gaps down alongside their annual data.