The government has virtually ruled out introducing legislation to allow ‘class actions’, dashing union hopes they could be used to address the gender pay gap.
The minister for women and equality, Jacqui Smith, told a trade and industry select committee that allowing class actions would only be a last resort.
Last week, an official at Amicus told Personnel Today that without class actions the Equal Pay Act “was not worth the paper it was written on” as individual cases were so long-winded and expensive.
Despite the Equal Pay Act making gender pay discrimination illegal in 1970, the pay gap still stands at 40% for part-time workers and 18% for full-time staff.
Roger Berry MP, chairing the committee on the gender pay gap, put it to the minister that the Act was “severely limited by a lack of class action”.
But Smith said: “Not only would this be a fundamental revision of the Equal Pay Act, but the idea of having group action in UK law would involve a fundamental review of our whole approach. Before we would get to that point we need to make sure we have done everything we can to make sure the current legislation is working better.”
Smith said the government would work to promote equal pay questionnaires to pre-empt legal action as well as improving the way equal value cases are operated by allowing specialist tribunals, stronger case management and new powers for managing advice from independent experts.
However, Mark Mansell, emp-loyment partner at law firm Allen & Overy, offered a glimmer of hope to unions, explaining that a type of class action already existed in UK law in the form of multiple applications. He said there had already been successful instances of several individual cases being brought at once, based on the same facts and the same employer.
Police payout as women win equal pay claim
Equal pay hit the headlines again last week when six police women, who held senior administrative posts with South Wales Police Authority, were awarded between £7,600 and £19,000 compensation. A seventh woman was awarded an interim payment of about £8,000 pending further reports over the next three months.
All the women were responsible for managing large budgets, but were paid less than men working at a similar level. They were backed by Unison, the UK’s largest union, which is warning other police authorities that they could face similar claims if they fail to pay women what they are worth.