It’s now 50 years on since the Equal Pay Act was passed into law, yet women are still facing financial discrimination in the workplace.
Gender pay disparities persist, and over the years there have been numerous cases of women being paid less than their male counterparts, despite having the same experience and skillset.
One specific case saw two female workers at Wilko’s warehouse in Magor, Monmouthshire, paid substantially less than male colleagues, leaving them feeling undervalued and victimised. These women are now launching a court case against the company which will be heard later this year.
Responding to the ineffectual nature of the Equal Pay Act, campaigning women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, has launched a new Bill seeking to modernise equal pay law. It hopes this will create greater pay transparency and bring an end to pay inequality.
While some may believe that pay equality has been achieved, recent figures tell a very different story. Statistics released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), reveal that since 2012, there has been minimal progress, with only a 0.6% narrowing of the gender pay gap.
Further to this, figures released by ONS in 2019, actually found that the pay gap for full-time employees rose to 8.95% from 8.6% the year prior. On top of this, there are still no sectors in the UK where women are paid the same as men.
The introduction of the Equality Act 2010, which came into action in 2017, meant that gender pay reporting became a requirement by law for UK employers with staff of 250 or more. It was hoped that this kind of transparency would encourage employers to level the playing field. However, this has not been the case. At present, almost 8 out of 10 companies pay their male employees more. Gender pay reports from 2019, also uncovered that in over one quarter of companies, women are paid 20% less than men, based on medium hourly pay.
Speaking about this inequality, Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of women’s rights charity, The Fawcett Society, said it was: “Disappointing, but not surprising”. She added: “The regulations are not tough enough. It’s time for action plans, not excuses. Employers need to set out a five-year strategy for how they will close their gender pay gaps, monitoring progress and results”.
Accompanying this, it appears that few are actually aware of their pay rights. Research conducted by the charity found that 40% of people are ignorant of the fact that women have the right to equal pay for work of equal value. Meanwhile, only 36% of people know that women have the legal right to inquire about a male colleagues salary, if they suspect pay discrimination.
One shocking case of pay inequality comes from two women, Julia Hanks of Caldicot, and Becky Jarman who worked at retailer Wilko. Both women, who were situated at Wilko’s warehouse in Magor, Monmouthshire, discovered after “bantering” with two male colleagues about pay slips, that they had been paid less for comparable work. This is despite the fact that in Wilko’s 2019 gender pay-gap report, it stated that its median pay gap was 0%.
The women said that once they took their issue to managers, they received poor treatment, including being “gaslighted” and “bullied”. The pair were later dismissed from their jobs. Reflecting on Wilko’s discrinimnation, Ms Hanks said: “I had never had my work in any role called into question, until I dared to query why I was not receiving the same wage as my male comparators. I loved my job and truly believed that I would retire in my role. But I’ve lost my job, my salary and my pension, simply because I queried my pay rate”.
In March, the case was taken to an employment tribunal in Cardiff, where it was found that the women were paid at least 10% less than four male employees for the same role, over a period of 3 years. The law firm Slater and Gordon, who are representing the women stated that the tribunal found the only reason for the payment disparity was the women’s sex.
A court hearing later this year will see the women present claims of sex discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal against Wilko.
Speaking about the women’s case, Sarah Hexter, an Employment Lawyer at Slater and Gordon said: “This is one large step in Julia and Becky’s fight for justice and equality, but it is not the final one. We are confident we will clear the next hurdles and secure the right outcome for them both”.
Meanwhile, Nicola Savage, GMB Regional Officer for Members at Wilko said: “Julia and Becky have been stoic throughout this process, despite Wilko management’s consistent attempts to stonewall any efforts for the matters to be resolved in-house”.
Desperate to see an end to pay disparities stemming from inequality, The Fawcett Society, have proposed a new Equal Pay Bill. The Private Members Bill, sponsored by Baroness Margaret Prosser in the House of Lords, would give every worker the legal right to access specific pay and job information about a colleague of the opposite sex. On top of this, workers would also have the right to receive an explanation concerning any pay differences.
Speaking about the changes that the proposed bill will instigate, Smethers, said: “This bill would make equal pay a reality and transform our outdated equal pay legislation by giving women access to pay information they need and much earlier in the process. It would also transform gender pay gap reporting, making it much more effective and introduce gender pay reporting by ethnicity, acknowledging the multiple discrimination that women of colour face. We are extremely grateful to Leigh Day and all our legal experts who have worked with us to prepare these proposals”.
The Bill also promises to extend gender pay gap reporting to companies with 100 or more employees, as well as require employers to inform their employees about their right to equal pay from the commencement of their contract. Also included, is the promise to update pay discrimination law which will return to women their lost pension rights if they win a case, and on top of this, injury to feelings compensation.
Reflecting on the importance of modernising the Equal Pay Act, Baroness Margaret Prosser, said:“Having seen the working women’s campaign for equal pay lead to victory with the Equal Pay Act 1970, I wouldn’t have dreamt that, in 2020, women would still be facing pay discrimination. But that is indeed what is still happening across the country, including at major institutions like the BBC, our councils and supermarkets.This new bill is vital for stopping pay discrimination – so that we are not still talking about this in another fifty years. Current rights just don’t work without transparency. I call on parliamentarians in both houses to support the proposals in this bill – it’s time to make the right to equal pay a reality for all women”.