The arbitration and conciliation service, Acas, has called for greater funding to raise the awareness of gender pay gaps and a change in the law to assist businesses when they carry out equal pay audits.
The key factors holding back equal pay are a lack of understanding and the cost of equal pay reviews, according to Acas.
Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap was as wide as 19.5 per cent in 2003. A recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found 47 per cent of employers have no plans to carry out an equal pay audit in the near future.
Acas chairwoman Rita Donaghy said that less than 1% of calls from employers to the organisation’s helpline were about equal pay and that even those demonstrated a lot of misunderstanding of what it involves.
“There needs to be more funding for a push to raise awareness of the issues,” she said. “Acas has 50 specially trained people who can help companies carry out equal pay reviews, but not enough organisations and employees realise how equal pay claims work – the law is about sex discrimination, not about creating a fair pay system.
“The other main reason companies do not take action is the cost,” she added. “At present, the law says that where a company carries out an equal pay review and identifies any discriminatory pay levels, the difference in pay must be put right immediately. For smaller companies in particular this can put an unbearable strain on the company’s finances.
“If the law were to be changed to allow organisations to phase in equal pay over a period of time many employers might be more willing to look at equal pay issues, knowing they had time to sort out the company’s finances. There would, however, need to be a clear timetable for implementation,” said Donaghy.