Credit should be given to the male BBC presenters who are to accept salary reductions following revelations over equal pay.
Jeremy Vine, John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Jon Sopel, Nick Robinson and Nicky Campbell have all reportedly agreed to pay cuts in the wake of Carrie Grace’s resignation as China editor in protest at unequal pay at the corporation. It follows the publication of a list last year which showed the salaries of its highest earners and uncovered a shocking gap between men and women.
This recent development reflects a growing frustration with sex discrimination in society including from many men who want to be part of the solution, not the problem – but what we must not forget is this is a systemic issue that needs tackling at the top.
Why Aren’t We All Paid the Same?
‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ is more than just a catchy slogan, it’s the law. Employers who do not pay men and women equally for doing work of equal value will be liable unless they can show a genuine reason for the disparity in pay that is not based on the person’s gender.
Admittedly, it is not always an easy fix. Levelling pay up rather than down has been the solution before, for example in the female machinists’ historic fight for equality at Ford Dagenham, but problems will inevitably arise over the budget for this.
The reality is there will have to be some creativity in resolving what are historic and endemic discriminatory pay practices, but it is a delicate matter since of course pay is a fundamental term of the employment contract and employers’ can’t just cut pay without being in breach of contract and giving rise to potential grounds for constructive dismissal.
Ultimately however, if a person has a valid equal pay claim, their employer will be liable.
What Needs to Change?
Research confirms that bridging the gender pay gap would bring huge benefits to the UK economy. According to global management consultancy McKinsey, it has the potential to add 840,000 women to the workforce and increase GDP by £150m by 2025.
Gender pay gap reporting, due to be introduced in April for companies employing 250 staff or more, will aid transparency around this subject and that is of course to be welcomed. What is still unclear, however, is what penalty – if any – there will be for employers who fail to provide this data. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently reviewing what steps it should take to enforce compliance with talk of fines and convictions, but clarity is needed on this before we see employers taking it as seriously as they should.
A recent review by women’s equality charity, the Fawcett Society, recommended that this is extended to include firms with more than 50 employees and to also include data on race, disability and other protected characteristics.
What Should I Do if I Suspect I’m Being Paid Less Than a Male Colleague?
If you suspect you’re being paid less than a male colleague and you feel comfortable, ask them what they earn. You are entitled to discuss pay with colleagues if it is to find out about potential discrimination, even if there is a pay secrecy clause in your contract. You could also find out who makes the decision and ask what factors influence your pay. Qualifications, experience, performance targets and length of service may all be factors and this could help you better understand how your pay is decided.
From April, if you work for a company employing 250 people or more, you can request a copy of your employer’s gender pay statistics and may also ask questions about them, either informally or through an equal pay questionnaire.
If you still feel you are being unfairly treated, you can raise a complaint or grievance with management or HR or take independent legal advice about your situation.
Samantha Mangwana is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.