HSE inspector takes equal pay fight to European Court of Justice

A principal inspector of health and safety takes her landmark equal pay case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg today – International Women’s Day.

Bernadette Cadman is taking her employer, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to the ECJ after she discovered she was paid less than the average salary of male colleagues on the same grade.

Cadman, who has worked for the HSE for 13 years and was made a band 2 inspector in 1996, said the organisation’s HR department informed her that male colleagues were being paid in the order of £5,000 to £7,000 more per year.

In May 2002, she took her case to an employment tribunal, which found that women were disproportionally adversely affected by pay systems based on length of service. The tribunal found that the HSE could not objectively justify the differences in pay. But an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in July 2003, citing an earlier ECJ decision, ruled that the HSE was not required to produce specific justification.

Despite this setback, Cadman has pursued the case through the Court of Appeal, which expressed sympathy with her argument, and referred the case to the ECJ for today’s hearing.

Cadman’s solicitor, Emma Hawksworth, a partner at Russell Jones & Walker, said the case “is the most important equal pay claim to be brought in the last 10 years”.

“The Equal Pay Act makes pay differences between men and women doing the same job unlawful, unless the pay differential can be shown to be a result of a material difference between their cases. That material difference cannot itself be discriminatory, either directly or indirectly,” she said.
 
“The Equal Opportunities Commission has shown that in this country, and throughout the EU, the length of service of female workers, taken as a whole, is less than that of male workers, due in large part to female workers’ domestic circumstances and obligations.

“In Mrs Cadman’s case, we argued that it was unlawful to allow for men in a comparable role to be paid more than her solely on the basis of length of service, and without any need to show why that was justifiable.”

Paul Noon, general secretary of the Prospect union, which is supporting Cadman’s case, said: “While the case is particularly relevant to public services, it will also be significant in any employment where long seniority-based pay scales exist, or where additional contractual benefits are dependent on long service, such as enhanced holiday entitlements.

“When service-related pay is analysed, women are often clustered at the lower parts of the pay band,” he said. “This is because statistically, women on average have shorter service, often due to children or other care responsibilities. The increase of women entrants into traditionally male dominated professions also raises questions over seniority-based pay.”

 

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