More than 4,000 female council workers in Birmingham have won the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues in a landmark case which could lead to total payouts worth about £200million.
An employment tribunal found in favour of the female workers employed by Birmingham City Council including careworkers, cleaners and clerical workers who complained of being excluded from bonuses which were being paid to men. During the seven-week hearing, the tribunal heard how a man doing the same pay-graded job as a woman could earn four times more than her. The tribunal found that these payments could not be justified since they were being paid to the men for simply doing their jobs. Under a bonus scheme, male refuse collection staff sometimes received up to 160% of their basic pay in additional payments. For example, in one year a refuse collector took home £51,000 while women on the same pay grade received less than £12,000.
The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970 to ensure that there is no discrimination between men and women with regards to pay. This means that women and men in the same or similar employment, or doing work of equal value, should receive the same pay. Under the legislation pay is not just a person’s salary but also other terms and conditions of their contract of employment, for example, holiday pay, bonuses, private medical insurance or life assurance, pension schemes, etc.
To make a claim for equal pay a worker will have to show that they are being paid less than a comparable worker of the opposite sex who is employed by the same employer and is doing the same or a similar job or is doing work of equal value. A worker can bring a claim if, when comparing themselves with a comparator of the opposite sex, they are doing:
like work (two jobs are like work if they are the same or broadly similar); or
work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation study; or
work of equal value (equal value claims can be made using comparators paid under different grading systems, collective agreements or job evaluation schemes, and comparisons can be made between quite different types of job. Whether two jobs are of equal value is something for a tribunal to decide).
Even if a worker establishes that they are doing equal work, their employer may still be able to argue that there is a genuine material factor which justifies the difference in pay and does not constitute sex discrimination. The employer may also be able to claim objective justification for the difference in pay even where sex discrimination is established. For example, an anti-social hours payment may have a disparate impact on females, but the employer may be able to justify it due to the need to pay extra to get people to work during the night.
However, it is no defence to an equal pay claim for an employer to argue that, for example, a woman may be paid less but has a better overall package than her male comparator. Claims under the Equal Pay Act (NI)1970 compare terms and conditions on a term by term basis, so if a woman is receiving lower pay for equal work, her pay should be brought up to the same level as that of her male comparator, even if her overall terms and conditions of employment are more favourable.
Further information is available from your local CAB or from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on 028 90 890 890 or from www.equalityni.org .
Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice