It is 30 years since the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act, yet women in the UK still earn on average 18% less per hour than men (What is The Pay Gap and Why Does it Exist?, 2005). The rate of reduction in this gender pay gap has also slowed, as can be seen from the negligible change between the 2003 and 2005 figures (Towards Equal Pay, 2003). The most obvious question to be answered is why does this ingrained pay gap exist? Is there a policy of discrimination against women by employers? Or, is just a case of the simplistic interpretation of a figure which disguises underlying socio-economic factors which employers have little to do with? This article is going to look at the role that discrimination legislation has had in addressing this, what recent developments have taken place in the area and what future changes in the law which might be beneficial. It is important first to clarify what is meant by “equal pay”, because there are two separate but intertwined issues . The first, which we will call the micro pay issue, involves clear discrimination: where a man and a woman do the same job but the woman is paid less – the “equal pay for equal work” issue. However, there is also a second more complex issue and which we will call the macro pay issue. This encompasses all the broader socio-economic factors that may create the differences in averages. The Micro Issue It is easy for today’s women to forget that open pay discrimination was a prevalent, and even accepted, practice into the 1970s. The Equal Pay Act 1970 (as amended), and other ancillary legislation, has proved very effective in eliminating such blatant discrimination. This legislation functions reasonably simply in that it bans pay discrimination based on gender. It does this by allowing those workers who believe they are doing the same work, but are paid lower rates – because of their gender – to bring an action at an Employment Tribunal. The tribunal will then decide if the workers are doing “like work” or “work of equal value” . This process has been made even simpler since the introduction of the Equal Pay Questionnaire (EPQ) in 2003. The EPQ is a standardized questionnaire which allows the person who believes they are not receiving equal pay (the complainant) to fill in and present this form to her/his employer (the respondent). On this form the complainant must identify a person of the opposite sex who is doing the same, or similar work, of like value (known as the “comparator”) whom they believe is paid more. Pay in this case refers to the whole range of remunerative elements like holiday pay, sick leave, bonuses, and even redundancy. Once this is presented to an employer they may just accept the argument and agree to the request for equal pay or fill in the required sections disclosing a comparator’s salaries or possibly making their own counter-arguments.
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