CAMPAIGNERS have called for action to close the gender pay gap after research showed women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year.

The difference between men's and women's average pay is 15.7 per cent, or £5,200, but is much larger for part-timers - 34 per cent - and in business and financial management.

The TUC said men working full-time were twice as likely to earn £50,000 a year, showing the glass ceiling holding back women at work was getting stronger.

The Fawcett Society said the gender pay gap was getting worse, while the so-called motherhood penalty of childcare responsibilities and lack of flexible working remained significant.

Dr Eva Neitzert, deputy chief executive of the campaign group, said: "It is disgraceful women in the UK still effectively work for free for nearly two months of the year relative to men and deeply concerning that last year the gap widened again for the first time in five years.

"The UK is fast sliding down the rankings of gender equal societies and we need to take action now.

"We urgently need action to tackle low pay, with the majority of those paid below the Living Wage female.

"Our research shows lifting the national minimum wage to the Living Wage would reduce the gap by 0.8 per cent; this compares to a historic slow pace of change that has seen the gap fall by just 6.2 per cent over the past 16 years."

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, added: "It is small wonder that Britain is plummeting down the international league tables when it comes to gender equality.

"Four decades on from the Equal Pay Act women are still losing out on pay and career opportunities.

"It feels like the glass ceiling is getting stronger, not weaker and we need a much tougher approach to stop future generations of women from suffering this pay penalty.

"Companies must be held more accountable for how they pay their staff and made to publish information.

"The Government must also tackle the problem of poverty pay which is another reason for the gender pay gap.

"Ministers need to take a serious look at why so many jobs in Britain pay so little when employers can easily afford to pay staff more."