Time for review

The TUC has been campaigning to close the gender pay gap since our first congress in 1868. We believe that trade unions have a central role to play in helping to eliminate the pay gap and ensure that women are not discriminated against through their pay packets.

The Equal Pay Act, introduced into UK law in 1970, outlawed the practice of paying women less than men for the same job. In 1984, the act was amended so that women could claim equal pay for work of equal value or like work.

Today, female full-time earnings are, on average, 18 per cent lower than male full-time earnings; female part-time earnings are, on average, 41 per cent less than male part-time earnings.

The persistence of the gender pay gap can be seen for a number of reasons: segregation of work into men’s jobs and women’s jobs; the undervaluing of the work that women do; penalties to women for responsibilities outside of the labour market (caring for children or dependent adults); and discrimination in pay systems.

Discrimination in pay structures is often allowed to continue unchecked because there is little transparency in pay practices in the UK and no law to force employers to review their systems to ensure they are not biased against women. The TUC has been urging the Government to introduce legislation to force companies to carry out equal pay reviews. In its recently revised Code of Practice on Equal Pay, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) says that “equal pay reviews are the most appropriate method of ensuring that a pay system delivers equal pay free from sex bias”.

In 2002, the TUC established a two-year equal pay pilot project, which offered training to trade union members to become equal pay reps. Over the two years, 607 trade union reps were trained in three-day courses. The training offered information on the law governing equal pay; how to conduct a pay review, and the materials and resources that reps can use for supporting their work, such as the EOC’s new Equal Pay Review Kit and revised Code of Practice on Equal Pay.

The success of the project means the training is offered as part of the TUC’s education courses. It ensures our reps are equipped to carry out a pay review of their company’s pay structures in partnership with the employer. Such a review allows the employer and the union to ensure their pay systems do not pay women less than men for like work. A review also allows an employer to identify equal pay gaps and to eliminate all of those gaps that cannot be justified on grounds other than sex.

The EOC’s Revised Code of Practice on Equal Pay gives employers a guide to conducting a pay review.

Mark Childs
Compensation and benefits director, Chubb

The equal pay audit (EPA) is an approach that checks for symptoms of pay gaps. Chubb has not undertaken an EPA, but if we were to adapt one, I’m sure it would be a good review of some of the gaps the EOC is encouraging to surface. The challenge for most HR directors is to get beyond the symptoms and do something about the causes.

The lion’s share of pay inequality has to do with occupational segregation and such things as interruptions in employment arising from childcare, higher instance of part-time work among women, which affect the attitudes of some employers.

Tools such as EPAs are helpful, but other means should be used, such as understanding career paths and in-formation from new hires and leavers to understand why different genders pursue different career paths. If you understand that, you can begin to understand why the equal pay gap exists.

Deborah Allen
Head of corporate social responsibility, BAE Systems

Some of our business units have carried out equal pay audits. We find it is hard to get meaningful data across to the board.

In some parts of our businesses, the information is easier to track because there are consistent records against personnel. In other places, where people have worked for the company for years, moved to different units, or been bought in, acquired, or sold off, you see results. But when you try to investigate it, it is hard to follow through what it means in practice.

We’re struggling with how to make it meaningful and how to use this data without becoming alarmist. We believe in equality, with opportunity and reward for all. But in practice, it’s more difficult than it sounds.

You’re looking at different company policies, different approaches, different grading systems, and trying to make sense of that. We need to look at it the other way – to look at job gradings people are doing now, the position they’re in and is there equality across that – rather than going back to the data to see if people have been promoted at the same rate.

It’s easier to take pay levels and say what should people be paid, and benchmark externally than it is to see how we came about it. With large companies, you end up with numerous legacy approaches that it’s like looking at different company policies rather than people issues.

Rebecca Taylor
Head of HR and development, Dataforce  

We haven’t done anything and we don’t have any plans to conduct any audits in the foreseeable future unless somebody requests equal pay information. However, it’s easy for us to access that information.

Equal pay audits are not our priority over the next 12 months. Our focus will be more on recruitment and rolling out our competency framework programme. EPAs are useful, in terms of being a good thing to have, but I don’t think it will change any company’s philosophy on equal opportunities, reward, or pay. Most companies are trying to be fair in the way they recruit and pay people – not because of legislation, but because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it will drive a lot of change.

We have rates for specific jobs. Within our contact centres, we have a rate for an entry-level brand advocate and a rate for experienced brand advocates. Therefore it’s easier for us to have a transparent pay structure and I don’t think it raises as many issues as it would in other environments.

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