Thursday, 14 November, 2019

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, the Fawcett Society

As we mark another equal pay day, coverage of the issue is often dominated by high paid women.  At one level, that’s understandable. The gender pay gap widens as we move up the income scale. There isn’t much of a gender pay gap between low paid women and low paid men. They are all low paid, all exploited by poor terms and conditions and the national minimum wage (although set far too low, it should be at Real Living Wage rates) provides a basic floor for rates of pay.  

But instead of thinking about the difference in the average hourly pay between women and men, ie the gender pay gap, let’s focus on one of the causes of the pay gap, pay discrimination. This is where women are paid less than men for doing the same work, work rated as equivalent or work of equal value. When we look at recent cases we see low paid women featuring more prominently. Consider the Glasgow City Council equal pay case, where after 12 years, over 20,000 women successfully argued that female-dominated jobs such as catering or home care were deserving of the same pay as male-dominated roles such as gardeners or refuse collectors. Or consider the ASDA shop floor workers (mostly women) v warehouse workers (almost all of whom are men), or the case of Kay Collins, who worked as a chef who was paid £16k per year compared with £22k annual salary her less well qualified male colleague was paid. After three years fighting, she won her claim but she lost her job. In all of these cases we see women fighting unlawful pay discrimination where they and their work are valued less than their male comparators. This has been unlawful for nearly 50 years, yet it keeps happening.

At Fawcett, our Equal Pay Advice Service is hearing about more cases of women who believe they are being paid unequally with men. The vast majority of these cases are women doing exactly the same jobs as men. Many don’t have trade union representation. We are starting to see some women winning significant payouts from employers. But in many cases, the employer just refuses to provide the basic pay data that she needs to challenge unequal pay.  This is where the existing law lets women down. She may have a 50-year-old right to equal pay, but that is meaningless if she cannot find out what her male colleagues are earning. In practice, a right to equal pay without pay transparency is no right at all. The only way she can find out is to take her employer to a tribunal, but most women don’t want to fight the case. They don’t want the stress. They don’t want to be labelled a ‘trouble maker’. They want to keep their job. So the vast majority of cases remain unaddressed.

And pay discrimination is much more common than we think. A survey Fawcett has published today shows that 29% of working women don’t know what their male colleagues earn, and for those who do know 37% say they think the man is paid more. But few can do anything about it. This is why we are campaigning with The Equality Trust to finally make equal pay a reality for women in 2020.  As we get ready to mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act in 2020 we have to go to the heart of why this remains a feature of too many of our workplaces and change the law by giving women the right to know what their male colleagues earn if they suspect pay discrimination. We want to see this backed up with additional powers for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so that enforcing the law isn’t left to a woman fighting on her own. Women won the right to equal pay 50 years ago, now it’s time for them to finally achieve it. If you agree with us, back the campaign and sign the petition. Let’s give women the #RighttoKnow and make equal pay a reality, not a distant dream.

Sam Smethers is the Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society.

Stop pay discrimination: Give women the #RightToKnow and sign the petition!

This is a guest blog and the views of the author are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.