Our thoughts on the world of employment law - and beyond.

Equal pay

Her feminist credentials may be questionable, but Beyoncé has nonetheless penned an open essay entitled "Gender Equality Is A Myth" that addresses the issue of equal pay in the US. I wonder what Queen Bee would make of recent developments relating to equal pay in the UK.

Birmingham city council is currently considering selling off a vast amount of land and property, including landmark buildings. Why? To help pay a £1 billion bill to settle thousands of equal pay cases.

The council has agreed settlements with a large number of female staff, including home care workers and school cooks, who were paid less than men doing jobs of equal value, such as porters and rubbish collectors. More claims are still being submitted.

It is well known under the Equality Act 2010 that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. This means that anyone employed under a contract personally to do work is entitled to enjoy contractual terms that are as favourable as those of a member of the opposite sex in the same employment, if they are employed on work of equal value (unless the material factor defence applies).

Despite this, statistics suggest that in the UK on average women earn 80p for every £1 earned by men For women who work part-time, the difference is even greater.

Even though the vast majority of equal pay claims are brought in the public sector, private sector employers are of course not immune. Undertaking job evaluation schemes or carrying out more informal equal pay reviews are ways to identify and where necessary remedy any gender based pay inequalities within their organisation. Of course, the flipside is that once inequalities have been identified, there is a greater need for action, or otherwise employees will be alerted to the prospect of equal pay claims.

Surely Beyoncé would agree: the Birmingham case should be a warning to all employers. The council could have avoided owing this huge sum in the first place by addressing the pay inequality. Instead, they owe these workers years of wages (and interest) and have a two year legal bill to match.

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