The gender pay gap fell to 9.6 per cent in April 2012 from 10.5 per cent in 2011, according to new figures published by the Office of National Statistics last week.

This year’s reduction in the pay gap (the difference between men’s and women’s median hourly pay excluding overtime for full-time employees) continues a general downward trend in recent years. The gap for part-timers, when compared with full-timers, has also fallen - down from 20.2 per cent in 2011 to 19.7 per cent in 2012.

But, as the TUC points out, the pay difference is still far too high and is the main barrier to closing the gender pay gap and tackling in-work poverty. It argues that employers must therefore do far more to support well-paid part-time work, such as encouraging job shares at a senior level.

It points out that the five highest paid occupations - aircraft pilots, chief executives and directors of advertising and PR, marketing and sales, and telecommunications firms - are all dominated by men and have a negligible number of part-time positions.

By contrast, four of the five worst paid occupations - waiters and waitresses, bar staff, catering assistants and launderers - are dominated by women and have more part-time jobs than full-time ones.

TUC General Secretary Designate Frances O'Grady said:

“Most women become part-time workers to balance work and caring responsibilities. This shouldn't mean also having to abandon their careers and accept poverty wages. It cannot be right that two in five part-time workers don't even earn the living wage.

“No healthy modern economy should have an enduring gender pay gap and growing in-work poverty. Unfortunately common sense solutions such as senior level job shares and flexible working are rarely available in the private sector, and are now under attack in the public sector. Unless we change the way we work we will never eliminate the pay gap or tackle poverty.”

To access the annual survey visit the Office for National Statistics website.