ANOTHER TWIST FOR EQUAL VALUE

Publication Date01 Apr 1988
Pages24-26
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb055128
AuthorSandra Fouracre
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour
ANOTHER TWIST FOR EQUAL VALUE
by Sandra Fouracre
Management Consultant
Introduction
The average gross hourly earnings of women employed full-time are approximately 74 per cent* of men's.
There are two reasons for the difference. One is that the majority of women are employed in less responsible,
less demanding jobs than the majority of men. Few directors, managers and senior administrators are women,
their numbers are small amongst technical specialists and, on the shop floor, they are typically engaged on
work regarded as unskilled rather than skilled. The issue in this respect is one of equality of opportunity requiring
the alteration of employer practices in recruitment and career development, realignment of their attitudes,
to some extent those of women themselves and, necessarily, those of educationalists.
The other reason and the focus of Equal Pay legislation is that of inequality of pay for women whose work
is as responsible or demanding as that of men.
Prior
to
the Equal Pay Act
of
1970, effective from
1975,
it was legitimate
for
employers
to
operate
two
sets
of
pay scales
for the
same work
one for men, and
another, lower,
for
women.
In
1970,
the
average gross
hourly
pay of
women stood
at 63 per
cent*
of
men's.
Under the original Act, a woman was entitled
to
equal
pay with
a man (or
vice versa) working
for the
same
employer
at the
same establishment,
and, in
certain
circumstances,
a
different establishment,
on
one
of two
bases. Either where
her
work
was
"like"
the
same
or broadly similar
to his, or
where their work
had
been rated equivalent
on a job
evaluation study, even
though
the
results
of the
study might
not
have been
implemented
Undoubtedly, the original
Act
had an impact both directly
through Industrial Tribunal cases,
and
more broadly
through
the
consequent adjustment
of pay
structures
However,
the Act
fell short
of the
requirements
of the
European Commission's Directive
of
1975, and change
to domestic legislation
was
forced
on the UK
Government following
a
European Court ruling.
Sex-based work segregation precluded
the
majority
of
working women from successful claims under the "like
work" provision
of the
original
Act. The
tendency
towards operation
of
different
job
evaluation systems
for separate work groups and bargaining units, typically
reflecting
the
pattern
of
sex-based
job
segregation,
effectively protected employers against claims from
many more.
It
was
clear
at the
outset that
the
potential impact
of
the Equal Value amendment was
far
greater than that
of
the
original Equal
Pay Act
Under
it,
women
are
entitled
to
equal
pay
with men (and vice versa) where
the work, although entirely different
in
nature, is
of
equal
value
in
terms
of
factors such
as
"effort, skill
and
decision".
Where the work
of
applicant and comparator
has been evaluated
at
different levels under a common
job evaluation system, that system itself
can be
challenged through
the
Industrial Tribunal process.
The Regulations relating
to
Equal Value claims
are
complex
and
over four years after
the
amendment
became effective (January 1984), cases involving major
issues
of
interpretation
of the
legislation
are
only
now
reaching
a
stage
of
resolution. Certain aspects
of the
original
Act are
also being clarified only
as
they
are
raised within
the
context
of
Equal Value cases.
In the first Equal Value case
to
reach the House
of
Lords,
five
Law
Lords, headed
by the
Lord Chancellor, ruled
unanimously
in May
1988 that a female cook
is
entitled
to equal basic
pay and
overtime rates with male craft
workers, even though she receives benefits which they
do
not
such as additional holidays, sickness pay and
free canteen meals
The result, hailed as a major victory for working women,
represents
a
landmark
in
interpretation
of
Equal
Pay
legislation.
To many low-paid women previously holding back Equal
Value claims,
the
decision offers encouragement.
For
unions,
it
undoubtedly opens the way
for
challenge
of
differences
in pay and
benefits across separate
structures. For many employers,
the
result can only
be
extremely costly, where successful leapfrogging claims
by
men and
women, seeking
to
equate with
one
another on each separate aspect
of
the reward package,
will give
all the
highest level
on
each element Clearly
the consequences
for
inflation could
be
serious and
it
is perhaps not surprising that the CBI is calling
for
review
of this aspect
of the
legislation.
Hayward,
the cook employed in the canteen
at
Cammell
Laird Shipbuilders
and
backed
by the
General
and
Municipal,
Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, was the
first
to
lodge a claim under the Equal Value amendment.
Four years later,
the
House
of
Lords has overturned
the
decisions
of
lower courts which ruled that the employer
need
not
pay Hayward
the £25
a week additional basic
pay
and
higher overtime rates that
she
claimed
She
is now entitled
to
both,
and
to
backpay
of
£5,000.
Her
employer
is
required
to pay
case costs estimated
at
£50,000
*
Department
of
Employment:
New
Earnings Survey
ER
10,4
1988
24

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