A “culture of pay secrecy” has allowed wage discrimination to thrive, with one in three workers unaware that men and women being paid differently for the same job is against the law, new research has found.
Some 35% of men and 33% of women are unaware that pay discrimination is illegal, research from gender equality campaign group The Fawcett Society showed.
Half of the 1,209 workers surveyed revealed they felt uncomfortable disclosing their earnings to a colleague - with 52% saying their managers would not welcome more openness, according to the Society.
The poll also found six in 10 workers do not know they have a legal right to discuss suspected pay discrimination on the basis of gender with their fellow workers.
Three in 10 think their contracts ban discussion about pay between colleagues.
The findings comes on the eve of Equal Pay Day, which every year marks the point from which women effectively start to work for free.
Almost two in three women admitted they would disclose their salary if they were asked by a colleague they knew well, who suspects they are being discriminated against.
In response, the Society and charity YESS Law are launching an Equal Pay Advice Service to aid low-paid workers experiencing pay discrimination to resolve the issue with their employer.
The service, launched nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which set out the right for men and women to be paid equally for the same work, will provide legal advice.
It is being supported by the Equal Pay Fund started with £361,000, which includes the backpay donated by ex-BBC China editor, Carrie Gracie.
Gracie resigned in January over the pay gap, a move which triggered a public row with the corporation.
It ended in Gracie - a BBC journalist of 30 years - being awarded a hefty backpay. She revealed she was on £135,000 a year while other regional editors - mostly male - earned upwards of £150,000.
People do not know their basic rights and do not know what their colleagues earn Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said: “In workplaces all over the country, pay discrimination is able to thrive and is more common than people realise because of a culture of pay secrecy which persists.
“People do not know their basic rights and do not know what their colleagues earn.”
She urged people to use Equal Pay Day as a chance to spark conversation about work pay.
Gracie said: “The fight for equal pay often pits a lone woman against a very powerful employer.
“Without the support of other BBC women and without great legal advice, I would have struggled to get through my own equal pay ordeal.
“Many women in other workplaces have since told me about their feelings of loneliness and helplessness in confronting pay discrimination.
“I feel particularly concerned about low paid women who may not be able to afford legal advice, and I hope support from our new Equal Pay Advice service will help give them the confidence to pursue their rights.”
A GoFundMe has been set up by the Fawcett Society to fund the advice service.