Every year we hear in the news that from a certain date (this year it was 4th November) many women effectively ‘work for free’ until the New Year, due to the lower rate of pay which, on average, women receive compared to men in the same jobs. This year it
equates to 57 days in total, which is three days longer than in 2013 – indicating that the “gender pay gap” is not reducing.
In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics (“ONS”), women currently earn, on average, £2.53 less per hour than men, which equates to them being paid 80 pence for every pound that a man is paid. The gender pay gap closed by a third between 1997
and 2010 in the UK, but then progress in this area stopped and the gap is now rising. Further statistics from the ONS show that the difference in pay between men and women (based on median hourly earnings for full-time workers) increased from a gap of 9.5
per cent last year, to 10 per cent. For all employees, including those who work part-time, it rose from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent.
The Equal Pay Act 1970 was enacted at a time when it was not uncommon for employers openly to apply different rates of pay to men and women performing the same job, or to reserve certain jobs for men and other (generally lower-paid) jobs for women. Although
such overt discrimination is far less common today, it seems that a significant gender pay gap nevertheless persists, and equal pay claims form a major part of the work of Employment Tribunals.
The Equality Act 2010 replaced the Equal Pay Act 1970, bringing together and re-stating the original discrimination legislation concerning sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, belief and age, and seeking to adopt a single approach where appropriate.
It is to be hoped that this streamlining will lead to an improvement in understanding and help steer the UK towards a more equal financial footing for men and women.
Other changes to the law are also designed to have this effect, in particular the introduction of mandatory equal pay audits, which were introduced with effect from 1 October 2014. As you can
read in our October 2014 employment law update article, an employer who loses an equal pay claim or a claim for sex discrimination in relation to pay, may be ordered by the Employment Tribunal to carry out an equal pay audit, which must identify any gender
related pay differences and include a plan to address any breaches of equal pay law. The results of the audit need to be published on the employer’s website for a period of three years and employees who are covered by the audit need to be informed about where
they can obtain a copy. The intention of this is no doubt to create more transparency about pay and provide a commercial incentive for employers to not to breach the Equality Act.
Also with a view to better transparency around pay, it was initially proposed that the Equality Act would ban pay secrecy or ‘gagging’ clauses, which stop employees discussing their pay with their colleagues. In the end, the Act did not result in pay secrecy
clauses being completely outlawed, but it does make them unenforceable against employees who make or solicit a “relevant pay disclosure”. This is a disclosure which is made to find out whether there is a connection between pay and one of the protected characteristics,
such as sex or age. Efforts are therefore being made to eliminate (or at least reduce) the gender pay gap, but as the statistics show, we clearly still have a long way to go.
For more information about any of the above or for practical commercial advice on
equal pay or any other aspect of employment law, please contact
Nigel Crebbin of the Berg Employment Team on 0161 833 9211 or email him at
Follow us on Twitter: @Berg_HR
(The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should
be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.)