'Clock is ticking' for large UK companies to report gender pay gap, equality watchdog warns

LONDON, March 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Time is running out for large British companies to report pay discrepancies between male and female employees or face an unlimited fine, the equality watchdog warned on Monday.

A law introduced last year requires companies and charities with more than 250 workers - covering almost half of the workforce - to report their gender pay gap each year by April 4.

The world's most powerful women:

"The clock is ticking," said Rebecca Hilsenrath, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

"Those who haven't reported really are entering the last-chance saloon. This is not optional; it is the law and we will be fully enforcing against all companies that do not report," she said in a statement.

Failing to reveal pay gaps would lead to "an unlimited fine decided by the courts," the EHRC added.

As in many other countries, pay inequality based on gender has been a persistent problem in Britain despite sex discrimination being outlawed in the 1970s.

The gender pay gap in Britain stands at 18.4 percent, according to government data.

"Pay-gap reporting is an opportunity to look at the data, understand the cause and nature of the gap in an organization, and develop a plan to close it," said Jemima Olchawski from women's rights group, the Fawcett Society.

HSBC earlier this month revealed a gender pay gap of 59 percent at its main British banking operation, the biggest yet disclosed by a bank in the country.

British broadcaster BBC was criticized when pay disclosures it was forced to make last July revealed two-thirds of the highest earners on-air were men, with some earning far more than women in equivalent roles. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Robert Carmichael; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)