50 Years Since the Act – Is There Equal Pay?

The Equal Pay Act, which established the legal principle that workers should receive equal pay for equal work, was given royal assent on 29 May 1970, following the huge publicity generated by striking sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant.

However, 50 years on, evidence shows that men and women are still not paid equally for work of equal value.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for Women’s Rights across the UK, reported:

  • Four in ten people (40%) do not know that women have a right to equal pay for work of equal value.
  • Only one-third of people (36%) know women have a legal right to ask male colleagues about their salary if they suspect pay discrimination.
  • In most workplaces, people do not talk openly about what they earn – with only 24% reporting that salaries are discussed openly in their workplace.
  • 46% of men said they would probably tell a female colleague how much they earned if she asked.
  • 34% of men said they would be more likely to share their salary with a female colleague who suspected she was being paid unequally; 52% of men said this would make no difference to them.
  • Only 8% strongly agree that people at their workplace talk openly about pay.

The Employment Tribunal Service data backs up the view that Equal Pay is still not happening. Since the 2007-08 financial year, employment tribunals in England and Wales have received more than 368,000 complaints relating to equal pay, an average of almost 29,000 complaints a year. This is the tip of the iceberg when you consider the impact of precarious and vulnerable employment which impacts women adversely and deters them from making claims against employers.

Do you think it couldn’t happen where you work? Do your systems make unequal pay impossible?

Ever scratched your head over a job evaluation?  Are roles traditionally filled by men (refuse workers/technicians) valued more highly than those traditionally filled by women (cleaners/carers?)

Are there bonus schemes or additional payments attached to male dominated roles?

2018 Glasgow Strike for Equal Pay

In October 2018 around 10,000 home carers, cleaners, caterers, school workers and other council staff marched together to George Square to demand equal pay. The strike lasted 48 hours strike and was the largest of its kind since the Equal Pay Act was introduced. Speaking at the rally, UNISON’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea, said: “Today our whole union stands with Glasgow. Together we have taken the fight to the courts and to the streets. Councillors have come and gone but our demands for equal pay have remained the same. The dedication to the cause of UNISON members has been incredible, and it’s been matched by the incredible strength shown by those taking action today.”

Thanks to UNISON support, these women finally received their Equal Pay dispute offers in January 2019.

Work usually done by women has historically been low-paid and undervalued. For example, teaching and nursing were jobs for unmarried women, apparently done for love of the work rather than money, painting women as biologically programmed to be nurturing, rather than highly skilled professionals requiring decent pay.

The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus has catapulted female-dominated industries from invisibility into the spotlight. Cleaning, carework, cooking, childcare: UNISON members have always known that our jobs are essential. Now society has caught up. The essential workers list is topped by the lowest paid, while bankers and hedge-fund managers are nowhere to be seen.

It took Glasgow’s council workers almost 50 years after the 1970 Equal Pay Act to achieve equal pay. Judging by recent events, we have a way to go before ‘women’s work’ is truly viewed as equally valuable.

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