LRD Booklets March 2002

Winning equal pay - a trade unionist's guide


Despite initial progress on closing the gender pay gap after the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, full-time women workers still earn only 82% of male average hourly earnings. The pay gap for full timers has reduced from 31% to 18%, but for part-time women much less progress has been made, as they still earn less than 60% of the average hourly rate for male full timers.

While the Equal Pay Act has eliminated the most obvious forms of pay inequality for women, there are still three main factors contributing to the gender pay gap:

* the segregation of women into lower paid occupations;

* the impact of women's family responsibilities on their working lives; and

* discrimination in pay.

It is this third element that has been receiving considerable attention recently from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the government, trade unions, and some employers. The Equal Pay Task Force, set up by the EOC, produced detailed recommendations last year on measures to address discriminatory pay systems and called for a statutory duty on employers to carry out regular equal pay reviews. Despite EOC recommendations in 1997 that all employers carry out equal pay reviews, few have done so. However the government has chosen not to impose a statutory duty on employers to review pay, but instead to encourage them to undertake a review voluntarily.

Unions will continue to push for a legal requirement on employers to review their pay systems, but in the meantime they are urging all employers to carry out equal pay reviews. The TUC is also in the process of training around 500 equal pay reps to review pay systems in the workplace.

The government has committed all its departments to carrying out an equal pay review by April 2003, and some private sector employers have also agreed to do the same. All this makes it a good time for union representatives to address the issue in the workplace, to identify whether there is unequal pay between men and women, and to find ways of tackling it. This booklet provides practical advice on reviewing and challenging pay discrimination in the workplace.

But there are also things union reps can be doing to tackle the other causes of the pay gap. Chapter 5 shows how reps involved in bargaining can also look for improvements to conditions for part-time workers, flexibility over hours and improved rights for working parents, all of which can contribute to reducing the elements of the gender pay gap caused by women's segregation into lower paid jobs and the impact of their family responsibilities.

Unions have won many important victories in equal pay cases, and initiating an equal pay case can sometimes be a way of getting the employer to negotiate changes to pay structures to eliminate inequalities. Chapter 3 explains the Equal Pay Act, and describes how to take an equal pay case to a tribunal.

Although the booklet is aimed at tackling the differences in pay received by men and women, there is also evidence of inequalities for black and ethnic minority workers, and for disabled workers. Gay workers may also not receive equal access to benefits for their partners. Any review of pay structures should look for differences in the pay, grading and benefits packages of these workers to ensure fairness.