It’s been over a century since women were given the right to vote in 1918 (through the Representation of the People Act). The advocators of this movement – the Suffragettes – were celebrated and paid tribute to all over the UK last month (Tuesday, 6th February) on the anniversary by the likes of politicians and social media users. In addition, activists took to the streets in one of London’s key locations (Trafalgar Square) in Suffragette rallies to remember the strenuous journey of those 55 women and four men and to encourage the continued drive for equality amongst females and males today.
A Long Way to Go?
Britain has undoubtedly come a long way since that pivotal moment of women’s suffrage, but the battle of gender equality is far from over. In 2018, women are still being paid less than men in jobs of equal value. This is a topic that resurfaces regularly in the media. Recently, the UK’s biggest retailer – food superstore Tesco – is facing Britain’s largest equal pay claim which may see them facing a bill of £4 billion; lawyers have stated that the hourly paid female store staff at Tesco are paid less than men despite the fact “the value of the[ir] work is comparable,” the BBC reports. The news site gave cleaners and binmen as an example of comparable jobs and stated that the most common hourly rate for women at Tesco is £8, yet men can receive a rate as high as £11. Should the legal challenge be successful, “thousands” of female Tesco workers could receive back pay up to the value of £20,000.
An Issue That Runs Deep
Issues with gender equality and pay appear to be present through companies of all sizes and stature; Asda, Sainsbury’s and, most recently, Morrisons are currently facing similar cases to Tesco, and in the public sector female dinner ladies and cleaners are taking action over claims they were paid less than binmen or male street cleaners. At this point it’s worth noting that if a company were to pay staff differently for doing exactly the same job, it would be a clear-cut offence under equality legislation. These aforementioned cases are disputing roles of equal worth.
Many people are asking how these situations are still happening so long after the suffrage movement. In Tesco’s case, Paula Lee, of Leigh Day solicitors, told the BBC that although the problem had been “hiding in plain sight for years,” there was no “suggestion that Tesco had intentionally been underpaying women.” She believes it’s the “historical divisions” between both genders that has led to the current situation. Nevertheless, since 1984 and the introduction of the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations, employers should be rewarding employees doing comparable jobs equally by law. Lee highlighted that that means Tesco have had 34 years to right any wrongs, yet this is where they find themselves.
Equal Pay and the Gender Pay Gap
The Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations may have come into effect 30 plus years ago, but it’s difficult to gage how much of a difference it has made and how far the UK has come since then; every company is different and therefore salaries will differ. In addition, there is currently no official measure in place within businesses that looks at the salaries of individuals thought to be in comparable roles. However, if staff feel they are being treated unjustly, they can hire an independent expert to do a job evaluation study, the BBC states. If two roles were found to be of equal value and there were salary discrepancies, the case could then go to an employment tribunal. The employer would also get an opportunity to argue their case – perhaps their reason for the variance in pay is one employee having more experience than the other.
Although different to equal pay, what we can look at to get an idea of the variance in salary between men and women is the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap compares the average salaries between females and males in the same company. If we look at England’s capital, not a lot of progress has been made over the last 20 years; the gender pay gap in London has closed just half a percent from 15.1% down to 14.6% in that time. On a larger scale, across the UK, in April 2017, men were earning 18.4% more than women. What’s worth noting is that a company could have a gender pay gap if the majority of male staff were in highly-paid jobs, regardless of the fact all employees in similar roles were paid the same.
Progress may be slow on issues of gender equality and pay, but the UK is heading in the right direction. Staff can take action if they feel they are being paid unequally and companies can no longer hide behind their gender pay gaps. As of April 2018, companies in the UK with 250 plus staff will have to reveal their gender pay gap data (that’s around 9,000 businesses). This new information will certainly help those who are assessing which companies to work for. Women are unlikely to want to work for businesses with large gender pay gaps, and this new data will highlight those who do.
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Call a UKCBC course advisor today to get started – they’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.