Male workers win landmark equal pay case

Thousands of male claimants pursuing equal pay claims will be able to take them forward following a ruling yesterday by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The EAT ruled in the case of Abbott and Others v South Tyneside Council that male claimants can “piggy back” on successful claims for equal pay brought by female claimants doing similar jobs. The men worked in jobs such as care assistants, caretakers, drivers and leisure centre attendants, and had lodged claims about discriminatory bonuses paid to male workers in better-paid jobs, such as gardeners and refuse collectors.

The claims were lodged at the same time as similar ones made by female workers between 2003 and 2005 in cases including Anderson v South TynesideDolphin v Hartlepool and Surtees v Middlesbrough. Although the women claimants eventually won their cases, a compromise deal reached in 2006 to cover the South Tyneside male claimants was withdrawn by the council.

They claimed the council’s action was discriminatory – a claim that the employment tribunal judge at the time, Judge Hargrove, said was “well-founded”.

The council appealed, but the EAT ruled that the 300 men in the case should have been offered the same pay as the women.

Presiding judge, Mr Justice Underhill, said: “It would be surprising and unsatisfactory if the Equal Pay Act offered no remedy to men in a situation like the present. The case where men and women do the same job but receive different rates of pay is the paradigm of the kind of situation which the Act was intended to prevent: how would it seem if – unusually but not impossibly – the roles were reversed and the ‘piggyback’ claimants were not men but women?”

Barrister and equal pay specialist Yvette Genn, of law firm Cloisters, said: “This is an important decision as it means that equal pay laws  can be applied not only by women who compare themselves with men, but also by men who  have jobs that are predominately done by women, and who therefore compare themselves with better paid men.”

Even though women historically have received lower pay than their male counterparts, it is too often forgotten that the law applies equally to men as it does to women. This ruling is what thousands of male workers who have not received equal pay up and down the country have been waiting for. There is no doubt that many of the similar 12,000 cases in the system will now proceed and are likely to be successful.”

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