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Women win equal pay claim taken against Belfast cafe Avoca

By Adrian Rutherford

Two women staff members of a Belfast cafe have won an equal pay claim against their employer.

Paulina Paczkowska and Agnieszka Anna Golygowska both worked as floor staff/baristas in the Avoca Café. 

While they had been doing the same work as a male colleague since May 2013, the male colleague had always received a significantly higher rate of pay. 

By 2015, Paulina was earning £6.79 per hour and Agnieszka £6.98 per hour, while their male colleague was earning £8.46.

Both women took grievances within the company in 2015, citing the disparity between their pay and that of their male colleague. 

When these grievances were dismissed, they lodged claims with the Tribunal and their trade union, SIPTU, referred them to the Equality Commission for help.

Avoca conceded that it did not have a structured pay scheme within the business. It said it believed it was "operating in a fair and proper way" but accepted the findings of the Tribunal. It said it was committed to fair and equal pay.

The firm also admitted that the three employees were all doing like work and accepted that there was a disparity in pay between the man and the women but claimed that material factors other than the sex of the staff were the reason for the disparity.

The Tribunal ruled that the factors cited by Avoca could not explain the difference in the pay rates.

The Tribunal stated: “There was not any evidence from 2013 onwards that there was a risk that [the male staff member] would leave or that the respondent was having difficulties retaining strong baristas or that the claimants were not competent baristas or that the respondent could not afford to pay the complainants a comparable rate of pay.”

The Tribunal accordingly ruled that the two women had succeeded in their claim and are entitled to equal pay to that paid to their male colleague from May 2013.

Dr Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the Equality Commission, said the case highlighted the clear legal protection afforded by the law. 

“The law governing equal pay can seem complex, but its essence is very simple –men and women doing equal work for the same employer should get the same reward for it."

Responding to the Tribunal’s finding, Avoca said: “Avoca is committed to fair and equal pay practices and to equal opportunities for all our employees. 

"We believed we were operating in a fair and proper way but we understand and accept the findings of the Tribunal. We will take steps to rectify Paulina and Agnieszka’s pay as quickly as possible and we apologise to them that we did not get it right in this instance”.

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