50 Years of the Equal Pay Act: Where Do We Stand Today?

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This year has certainly been one that will go down in history. Between the Black Lives Matter movement and the global pandemic, life around us is changing as we know it and it seems that the ramifications will be felt for years to come.

But this time 50 years ago was also historic and remarkable as it was the year that the Equal Pay Act was introduced in the UK.

The ground-breaking act was published on the 29th May 1970 and prohibited any unfair or less favourable treatment between men and women across both pay and working conditions.

The act came as a direct result of The Ford Strike which took place in 1968 and saw the female sewing machinist workers go on a three week strike due to the unfair pay structure which showed blatant favouritism towards male workers.

Strike leaders met with then employment secretary, Barbara Castle, and brokered a deal to end the strike which included the conception of the Equal Pay Act which came into effect seven years later.

It can be read in full here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1970/41/enacted

The Equal Pay Act was repealed on 1st of October 2010 but many of its substantive provisions were replicated in the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act 2010 is far broader than the Equal Pay Act and encompasses 116 separate pieces of legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976, into one single Act.

It aims to protect workers from any type of discrimination, victimisation or harassment based on the nine protected characteristics: gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion, pregnancy or maternity, disability, relationship status and gender reassignment.

Where are we now with gender equality in the workplace?

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, it’s clear to see that developments have been, and continue to be, made towards real change but there are still many issues that need addressing before we can see real equality in UK workplaces.

For example, studies show there is still a clear pay gap between men and women which currently stands at 17.3% (as of 2019 figures) which means that women were paid 83p for every £1 that their male counterpart was paid.

Furthermore, research also shows that the number of cases being brought to employment tribunals is not on the decline.

On average, there are 29,000 claims a year in England and Wales with equal pay making up 12% of cases and the remainder being unfair dismissal, discrimination and unlawful deductions from pay.

In 2017, it became mandatory for businesses with 250 or more employees to publish and report on their specific figures when it comes to the difference between the average earnings of men and women in their company under the new Gender Pay Gap Reporting legislation.

This aimed to make employers aware of the disparity between what they pay their female workers compared to their male workers by having to closely study those figures, and it also hoped to publicly shame businesses into treating their workers equally.

This 50-year anniversary also comes at a time where the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to the inequal pay between black and brown workers compared to their white counterparts which has started conversations about introducing Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting.

Though the Equal Pay Act was targeted at tackling gender inequality, the general idea of the act was ‘equal pay for equal work’, so we cannot ignore the disparity in pay, opportunities and treatment in workplaces between races too.

What can employers do to promote gender equality within their workplace?

In order to close this gender pay gap and reduce the number of claims taken to employment tribunal over discrimination or inequality, employers and businesses need to do more.

The idea behind Gender Pay Gap Reporting is great, but it doesn’t apply to small or medium-sized businesses.

They should take it upon themselves to look at those figures and pull together their own reports for internal use to highlight any disparity between the salary of women and men in their company, and to address any issues that are flagged up to move towards a fairer workplace.

But gender equality goes far beyond equal pay. Women should be treated equally to their male counterparts in every aspect, and this includes being given the same opportunities, such as promotions and senior roles.

Women only hold 22% of board seats in UK workplaces, so if there is an obvious lack of female presence in your boardroom, then this needs to be addressed too.

It may be that your job specifications need reviewing because they have barriers in place that stop women from being able to apply for that role or that you need to provide a better work/life balance for your employees so that they are able to work towards more senior positions within the company.

You should also consider your workplace policies and procedures and whether there are any double standards present, e.g. do you have a dress code that specifically singles out a gender such as making it mandatory for women to wear heels.

If so, then these will need to reviewed and re-written to ensure that they are fair and equal towards all genders.

Any treatment that may be deemed less favourable towards one gender could be cause for a discrimination claim so you need to assess and dissect every aspect of your business to find the areas where you could be pushing for more equality.

All in all, it seems that there is still a way to go before we truly reach equality across all genders, races, religions etc. in the workplace, but what started 50 years ago with the Equal Pay Act has grown and evolved into what we see today with new legislations and continued debate about how we can do better every day.

If you have any questions about this blog, or you need help reviewing your policies or putting better practices in place to promote gender equality, then you can speak to one of our expert HR Consultants today by calling us on 0845 2626 260

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