Equal pay in the UK


The Equal Pay Act turned 50 back in May of 2020, and was introduced to ensure that men and women are paid the same for equal work. However, despite this legislation, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has recorded 368,000 equal pay complaints since the 2007/08 financial year.

On top of this, according to the Fawcett Society, four out of ten workers are unaware that they are entitled to equal pay for work of an equal value. Research also shows that 60% of women in the workplace are either unaware of what their male co-workers earn, or believe that they are paid more.

Clearly, this is a sign that discussions around pay need to be more open and transparent, and employers need to do more to ensure that equal pay is a given.

Being such a taboo topic, employees may be unsure of themselves when it comes to navigating such discussions.

But don’t worry, read on, and you’ll learn all there is to know about equal pay protections, the importance of pay transparency, and where to turn when equal pay goes wrong.

The protections around equal pay

The Equal Pay Act was introduced on 29 May 1970 and was the first piece of legislation in the UK to enshrine equal pay rights. Decades later in 2010, the Equality Act brought together all existing equalities legislation under one Act, and set out to safeguard equal pay for equal work for men and women.

Under the legislation, “pay” doesn’t just refer to basic pay, it also covers:

  • Holiday pay
  • Overtime pay
  • Non-discretionary bonuses,
  • Work pensions, and;
  • Additional benefits such as, health insurance and company cars

Moreover, a female worker can claim equal pay matching that of a male colleague, if she is in the “same employment” and performing a role that is:

  • Classified as “like work,” meaning the same or broadly similar
  • Classified as “work rated as equivalent”
  • Classified as “work of equal value,” meaning that a work title may be different, but it requires the same level of demand, whether this relates to physical or emotional effort, required skill-level, or level of responsibility

While companies should be aware of these legislative requirements, in order to keep everything above board, and unproblematic, an employee’s company should have a clearly defined policy on equal pay.

On top of this, companies should also have regular equal pay reviews and audits, to check everything is in line with legislation, and that they are not contravening the Equal Pay Act.

Another safety net that an employee’s company should implement relates to consistency in terms of job titles. For example, calling a female employee a cook, and a male employee a chef, when they both perform the same role is discriminatory, and will likely lead to unequal pay on the basis of gender.


The importance of pay transparency

In Sweden, pay transparency is of utmost importance, and this is reflected in the country’s legislation, namely the Public Access Principle. This permits any citizen access to salary information from both equality watchdogs and trade unions. In addition to this, companies that employ over 25 staff, have to conduct a full pay audit each year.

In the UK, legislation is not as rigorous. From 6 April 2017, gender pay gap reporting was legislated under The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, and The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties and Public Authorities) Regulations 2017. The former applies to private and voluntary-sector organisations, that employ 250 workers or more, and the latter, to public bodies with 250 workers or more.

However, while gender pay gap reporting is meant to reveal the average pay difference between men and women, according to an inquiry into the legislation’s effectiveness, gender pay reporting did reveal equal pay issues in organisations.

That being said, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), one in five workers have been informed that they cannot discuss their earnings in the workplace. This is known as a pay secrecy clause and while the Equality Act 2010, placed some restrictions on them, making them “unenforceable,” they are not banned outright. This means that employees can feel intimidated into silence.

Further to this, a survey conducted by Indeed discovered that 56% of the 2000 employees interviewed, supported making salary information publicly available. Only one-third expressed resistance against this.

Meanwhile, the TUC has argued that without full transparency over earnings, the gender pay gap which currently stands at 17.3%, won’t close until 2058.

How to deal with unfair pay

Unfortunately, despite the legislation stipulating otherwise, some employers break the law by not paying their employees an equal wage.

If an employee suspects that they are not being paid the same wage as a colleague who performs the same work as them, and suspect this is occurring on an unfair basis, approaching HR for a quiet word is a good idea. Here, it is vital that an employee asks for information relating to workplace pay. This will help them clarify the situation.

If an employee feels that an informal chat is inappropriate, it’s probably best to formally raise their grievance with management instead, be this in person or through a written letter.

An employee should then ask questions about the information they are provided with, and request an explanation of any disparities in pay. Acas can help with this. However, due to data protection laws, an employee will not get access to the personal information of other employees.

If an employee is unsatisfied with their company or organisation’s response, it might be time to take the issue to an employment tribunal. In order for a case to be successful, an employee should be able to prove that their pay is worse than a comparator within the workplace, who is the opposite sex, and performs the same role, or a similar role to them.

An employee can file a claim at any time within their employment, however if they leave their position, they should file a claim within six months of their departure. In addition to this, prior to filing a claim, an employee must seek advice and early conciliation from Acas. It is also advisable to obtain representation, be this in the form of a solicitor, or trade union representative.

It’s important for employees to be prepared for a tribunal case, and ensure that they have all the correct information, sufficient sources and witnesses to present their case. Tribunal cases can also be emotionally and mentally demanding, so employees should ensure that their case is watertight, and that they are mentally prepared for such an undertaking.

If an employee’s case is successful, the tribunal will either make a declaration of their rights in relation to the case to ensure the employer pays them equal wages, or order the employer to pay the employee compensation. This may include back pay and interest for up to six years from the date of the claim.

Final thoughts

Facing financial discrimination in the workplace can be absolutely devastating. It not only affects your bank account, but your mental wellbeing too. While it may seem daunting to challenge such an injustice, you are supported by your worker rights, and the rule of law, which is clamping down on employers who don’t abide equal pay legislation.

That being said, there’s still a long way to go. Legislative reforms are required to improve transparency, and eliminate unequal pay in the workplace and sexist mindsets must be challenged. As the Fawcett Society outlines: “The law is clear – but equal pay is far from won”.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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