The Fawcett Society published their latest research into unequal pay between the sexes today. The average pay difference between men and women is reported to be around £5,200 per year (or 15.7%), but this grows to 34% for part-time workers.
Particular industries, such as business and finance, tend to be the worst areas for pay disparity. This comes in a week of Word Economic Forum’s gender gap report, in which the UK is no longer in the global top 20 for equality.
Whilst there has been legislation in place since 1970 to address this blatant form of discrimination, legislation alone cannot address the problem of unequal pay if the basic tools are not available to assist women to challenge such conduct.
Last year we saw the UK Government abolish the statutory equal pay (and discrimination) questionnaire, this was a vital tool for women to gather evidence about their employer’s pay structures. Most employers are not open about the way in which they reward staff, so the questionnaire pressurised them to provide information about how they paid staff. If they did not answer the questionnaire, an Employment Tribunal could draw adverse inferences from a lack of, or an evasive, response.
Now there is no statutory tool to seek that information. Whilst there is a non-statutory regime in place to ask questions, it remains to be seen what the force of it is and whether employers will provide information. As there are no clear timeframes for a response, it is likely that employers could delay a response to hinder a claim being properly addressed in an Employment Tribunal. This has created a clear obstacle for women seeking redress in an equal pay dispute.
We are also seeing the Deregulation Bill being passed through parliament at present. The Bill will remove a Tribunal’s statutory power to make wider recommendations in respect of an employer who has been found to have discriminated.
Where, for example, a Tribunal had found that a female employee was being paid less bonus than a male counterpart, it would not only compensate her for her losses, but it could also make recommendations that the employer review its bonus allocation process, for example.
If the Bill is passed, this statutory power will be removed and opportunities for wholesale cultural change across an employer will be significantly reduced. Although, on a positive note, Tribunals do now have the power to order pay audits where an employer has lost an equal pay claim.
In order to really address the problem of unequal pay, employers need to be concerned about civil sanction if they breach equality laws. At present, the balance is heavily in favour of employers who are able to disguise their practices.
Until there is more transparency and more powerful sanctions for employers in breach, I don’t believe that we will achieve the real changes that we need for ourselves or our daughters.
Slater and Gordon are the No. 1 ranked employment law firm for individuals in Chambers & Partners 2014.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Merseyside, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Derby & meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire & in Hull, Yorkshire.