Neil Buck: Women are now working for ‘free’ until 2017 – Honestly?

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History was made last month when Hillary Clinton ran as the first-ever US female presidential nominee, which had she been successful, would also have seen her become the first-ever female President.

But despite her seeming popularity in all the polls beforehand, she was still beaten to the top job by Donald Trump. Clinton commented at the time, “We have still have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But some day, someone will.”

She may be right but how far are we from that day? We indeed have our own new female PM, albeit not our first, but she is a good example that demonstrates women are worthy of, and of equal value in, such high posts.

However, there was further evidence last month that gender equality has still not been realised – Equal Pay Day fell on November 10, and marked the point in the year from which women were effectively working for free until the end of the year, when their earnings were compared to their male counterparts.

So that was a full 51 days, only one day later than last year, although it would appear that some positive progress is being made – twenty years ago, women worked a whole 76 days for free.

Yet, unsurprisingly, if most people saw an employer advertising, “Temp job available – Women only – Zero Pay, Work for free – Apply within,” you would be shocked wouldn’t you?!

At the current rate of change, true gender equality in terms of pay will not be realised for another 62 years. This is based on a methodology created by the Fawcett Society, using ONS data.

Of course, legislation already exists to fight discrimination in the workplace, (the Equal Pay Act* is over 40 years old after all!) but it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

The reality here is that it’s quite likely that in our lifetimes, we won’t reach the point where men and women are being paid the same for their skills and talents.

You may also have heard or read some things lately regarding equal pay:

Case Law – Some 8,600 people, who work at Asda feel they are being paid less than others despite their roles being of ‘equal value’, have won their first round battle for equal pay as an employment tribunal has recently ruled that the women, who mainly work at stores on the check-outs or stacking shelves, can compare themselves to higher paid men who work at warehouses.

The difference in pay between the predominantly female staff who work in store, and the mainly male staff who work in the distribution centres, is between £1 and £3 an hour, and if the claims are ultimately successful, it could mean workers recovering more than £100m in back pay and pay rises in the future.

Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, it could pay the men what they like but the employment tribunal found that Asda, the employer of both men and women, could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to.

There are also 400 Sainsbury’s workers who are in a similar situation, so this judgement will have far reaching implications.

Gender Pay Gap reporting – new regulations due to come in to force next year, will force organisations with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap figure.

There’s no doubt such cases and statutory measures will certainly help raise the profile of the gaping problem.

However, it’s sometimes not as easy or straight forward as it seems on the face of it for employers e.g. it is often difficult to compare what people earn if they undertake work which is very different, comparing hourly rates is very different from comparing the pay of salaried staff, and pay being the same for employment of equal value is often just a matter of judgement.

Having said that, no matter what your size, sector or industry, if you’re an employer you have a legal responsibility to play your part in closing the equal pay gap and enable women to shatter that elusive glass ceiling once and for all – if you don’t pay equally you could end up in a tribunal just like Asda.

*The law

The Equal Pay Act was repealed but its substantive provisions were replicated in the Equality Act 2010.

For an employee to bring a claim they must prove one of the following:

  • That the work done is the same, or broadly the same, as the other employee.
  • That the work done is of equal value (in terms of effort, skill, decision and similar demands) to that of the other employee.
  • That the work done is rated, by a job evaluation study, the same as that of the other employee.

Once the employee has established that they are employed on ‘equal work’ with their comparator then they are entitled to ‘equal pay’ unless the employer can prove that the difference in pay is genuinely due to a material factor which is not the difference in gender.


Neil Buck is the MD of The Personnel Dept Management Consultancy Ltd, a professional, award winning HR Management services company based in North Hykeham, Lincoln which supports SME’s throughout the employment lifecycle with bespoke, flexible and commercially savvy solutions. Often described as “the paracetamol solution for employers headaches”.