Living and working in United Kingdom

18 October 2017

  •   Population: 65.8 million (2017)
  •   Real GDP growth: 1.8% (2016)
  •   Unemployment rate: 4.8% (2016)

Data source: Eurostat

Eurofound provides research, data and analysis on a wide range of social and work-related topics. This information is largely comparative, but also offers country-specific information for each of the 28 EU Member States. Most information is available in English but some has been translated to facilitate access at national level.

Eurofound strives to strengthen the ongoing link between its own work and national policy debates and priorities related to quality of life and work. Increasingly important in this context is the Europe 2020 growth and jobs strategy launched in 2010, which has five headline targets, covering employment through to social inclusion and poverty reduction. The strategy is implemented in the context of the European Semester process – the EU's annual cycle of economic policy guidance and surveillance – which ensures that Member States keep their budgetary and economic policies in line with their EU commitments through, in part, National Reform Programmes. These programmes form the basis for the European Commission's proposals for country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for each Member State.

European Commission: The European Semester
European Commission: The European Semester - EU country-specific recommendations
European Commission: European Semester documents for United Kingdom

 

 

2015 Eurofound EWCS survey results in United Kingdom: 89% of people are satisfied with working conditions in their job

Survey results

Satisfaction with quality of life
Data source: 2012 EQLS survey

Ability to choose or change
methods of work

Data source: 2015 EWCS survey

Possibility to accumulate overtime
for days off

Data source: 2013 ECS survey

News and quarterly country updates

Eurofound contacts in United Kingdom

Correspondents in United Kingdom

Correspondents report on topics related to developments in the countries working life and inform Eurofound’s pan-European comparative analysis. Read more

University of Warwick - Institute for Employment Research (IER) and the Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU)

Eurofound governing board members from United Kingdom

Eurofound's Governing Board represents the social partners and national governments of all Member States, as well as the European Commission. Read more

Cara Maguire Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Matthew Percival Confederation of British Industry (CBI)

Paul Sellers Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Related content

More resources on United Kingdom

Other country-specific information may be available in certain areas on demand. Please feel free to contact your country contact at Eurofound for this or any other information at information@eurofound.europa.eu

Working life in United Kingdom

About

  • Author: Claire Evans and Duncan Adam
  • Institution: University of Warwick

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in the United Kingdom. It aims to complement other EurWORK research by providing the relevant background information on the structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in the United Kingdom

 

2011

2016

% (point) change
2011–2016

United Kingdom

EU28

United Kingdom

EU28

United Kingdom

EU28

GDP per capita

29400

25800

31400

26900

6.8%

4.3%

Unemployment rate – total

8.1

9.7

4.8

8.5

-3.3

-1.2

Unemployment rate – women

7.4

9.8

4.7

8.7

-2.7

-1.1

Unemployment rate – men

8.7

9.6

4.9

8.4

-3.8

-1.2

Unemployment rate – youth

21.3

21.7

13.0

18.7

-8.3

-3.0

Employment rate – total

75.5

71.1

77.3

73.0

1.8

1.9

Employment rate – women

69.6

64.8

72.3

67.4

2.7

2.6

Employment rate – men

81.5

77.5

82.5

78.6

1.0

1.1

Employment rate – youth

58.2

42.5

58.5

41.6

0.3

-0.9

Source: Eurostat - Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2011-2016 (both based on tsdec100). Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [lfsi_emp_a].

Background

Background

Economic and labour market context

Between 2011 and 2016, UK GDP increased 6.8%, above the EU average of 4.3% for the same period. Unemployment rates decreased in all categories, especially for young people, falling 8.3 percentage points and reaching 13.0% in 2016, below the EU average of 18.7% for that year. Employment rates over the five years remained above the EU averages. The biggest increase was in women employment, which rose 2.7% between 2011 and 2016, close to the EU average rise; it stood at 72.3% in 2016, when the EU average was 67.4% for the same category of workers. 

More information on:

Legal context

There are various UK acts covering UK employment and trade union law.

The main legislation covering British labour law is the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which sets out definitions related to trade unions and how they may operate. Statutory trade union recognition procedure was introduced in the Employment Relations Act 1999.

Collective bargaining is not regulated by UK labour law as such. Parties enter into collective agreements voluntarily. Collective agreements are not legally binding in themselves, though in practice terms agreed through collective bargaining may be written into individual contracts of employment, which are legally binding.

There were no major changes to the laws relating to representation and collective bargaining throughout 2016, though changes to trade union law and further limitations on strike action have been implemented as a result of the Trade Union Act, passed in 2016. The legislative process was completed on the 4th of May, although regulations enacting the provisions and bringing them into force have not yet been passed and no time frame has been published to date. The legislation introduces more stringent requirements covering strike ballots, particularly in essential services, and the conduct of industrial action. It also changes the law regulating the operation of union political funds, with potentially adverse effects on the finances of the opposition Labour party.

Industrial relations context

The system of industrial relations in the UK is characterised by voluntary relations between the social partners, with a minimal level of interference from the state. There is a high level of decentralisation and a low level of coordination in relation to collective bargaining, with most taking place at the workplace or establishment level. Since 1999 statutory procedures have existed for establishing trade union recognition, though voluntary agreements have predominated.

Throughout the 1980s, the Conservative governments pursued an anti-trade union agenda by imposing legal restrictions on trade unions’ ability to engage in industrial action and by privatising many areas of the public sector. During this time, many sectoral collective agreements in the private sector were dismantled and trade union membership fell markedly. The New Labour government elected in 1997 was more conciliatory towards the trade unions, though the approach throughout Labour’s period of office relied mainly on using individual legal employment rights to protect workers. Since 2010, when the Coalition government was elected, the ability to challenge employer behaviour has been restricted: settlement agreements have been promoted, fees have been introduced to access the tribunal system and pre-claim conciliation must now be considered. Mediation has also been promoted as a means of dispute resolution. Some of the previously established individual employment rights have been diminished. The most important is the increase in the qualifying period of service required before an employee can make a claim for unfair dismissal, which increased from one year to two years. In May 2015, the Conservative Party formed a majority government and its controversial Trade Union Act was passed in 2016. A number of Conservative MPs recently called for further tightening of the laws, following a ‘mini-strike wave’ in December 2016.

Actors and institutions

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in the United Kingdom.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is the main body, established by statute, involved in conciliation and arbitration in the UK. It is overseen by an independent council and its task is to improve industrial relations. It is involved in both individual and collective conciliation. In 2013 the introduction of compulsory early conciliation as a prerequisite for making an employment tribunal claim increased Acas’s involvement with individual cases.

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) is a tribunal non-departmental government body, sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its role is to resolve collective disputes in England, Scotland and Wales either by voluntary agreement, or if necessary, by a legal decision. For example, the CAC may rule on trade union recognition, establishing consultative committees or collective bargaining processes.

The position of Certification Officer (CO) was established in 1975. Although the Certification Officer is a wholly independent statutory office, Acas is responsible for providing its finance, staff and support services. The Certification Officer has responsibility for a range of functions including the maintenance of lists of trade unions and employers’ associations; the determination of complaints from union members against their unions relating to alleged breaches of statutory duties and some types of union rules; determining union independence; ensuring that annual returns are made; the supervision of mergers, as well as of political fund ballots ; and, finally, the investigation of alleged financial irregularities. The recent Trade Union Act has meant a change in the formerly neutral role of the CO, conferring new powers on the CO, which can now launch its own investigations into a wide range of union internal affairs, such as administration, finances, elections and ballots. The CO will have the power to impose enforcement orders and fines on unions of up £20,000. Moreover, it will be funded by a levy on unions and employers.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. It acts in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury across Great Britain’s workplaces. The HSE is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Representativeness

The issue of representativeness is largely unregulated in the UK. Formal ‘representativeness’ criteria for trade unions and employer bodies are generally not used. Representation is conducted largely on a voluntary basis, and is most commonly conducted at the workplace level.

The TUC represents approximately 5.6 million members in 50 unions (TUC, 2017). However, the TUC does not conclude or have the power to conclude collective agreements at any level. (There are further trade union members of unions that are not affiliated to the TUC.)

Similarly, the CBI has no role in collective bargaining. In a few sectors, such as construction, employers’ organisations are involved in sectoral-level collective bargaining, but this is unusual. Due to the largely decentralised nature of employment relations in the UK, employer organisations do not have a particularly prominent role in the country’s industrial relations.

More information on representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s representativeness study of the cross-industry social partners or in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

Any worker or employee can join a trade union. In practice, employees or workers can join any union, which may or may not be recognised at their place of employment. As noted, the practice of recognition is largely voluntary.

Trade union membership is voluntary; the closed shop has been illegal in the UK since the Employment Act of 1990. The latest data available from BIS/ONS shows that total union membership stood at 6.5 million in 2015 (BIS, 2016), with overall density standing at 24.7% in 2015, slightly down from 25.0% in 2014. The fall resulted from an increase in the number of employees rather than a decline in union membership; the latter actually increased slightly in 2015 but employment growth outpaced membership growth. It should be noted that union density has been in decline for some time, from a peak of 56.3% in 1980.

Union density varies considerably by sector. BIS/ONS figures for 2015 indicate density in the private sector at 13.9%, falling slightly from 14.2% in 2014 (again, a reflection of employment growth outpacing membership growth). In the public sector, union membership levels increased by 29,000 year-on-year to 3.80 million in 2015, with density rising from 54.3% in 2014 to 54.8% in 2015 (BIS, 2016).

Trade union membership and trade union density

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Source

Trade union density in terms of active employees

26.4

25.6

25.8

25.4

25.1

n/a

OECD/Visser (2014)

Trade union membership in 1,000s

6,680

6,621

6,538

6,445

 

6.5 million

(ONS, 2015)

OECD/Visser (2014)

Main trade union confederations and federations

As noted, trade union membership is significantly lower than it was at its 1980 peak. In response to falling numbers there have been a number of union mergers over recent years, resulting in the formation of some large general unions.

The TUC website notes that there are now 50 trade unions affiliated to the TUC in the UK (down from 52 in 2016) (TUC, 2017). The annual report of the Certification Officer for trade unions and employers’ organisations for 2015–2016 notes that as at 31 March 2016 there were 145 trade union organisations (down from 162 in 2014 and as compared with 226 in 2000 and 306 in 1990) (Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations, 2016).

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name

Abbreviation

Members as of January 2017

Involved in collective bargaining

Trades Union Congress

TUC

5,814,836

No

Note: Membership figures are as reported to the TUC for January 2016 and are taken from the TUC Directory 2016.

There have been no major changes in terms of representativeness. Union mergers were more common approximately 10 years ago, when larger general unions were formed in response to falling union numbers. There have been minor changes in whether or not unions choose to affiliate to the TUC.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

The TUC is paralleled on the employers’ side by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Like the TUC, the CBI has no mandate to collectively bargain and bind its affiliates. In general, the CBI represents companies in the private sector and is regarded by the government as its main interlocutor with business. Its membership comprises trade associations (around 140 currently) and individual companies (usually of medium and large size) as direct members – the CBI claims to represent around 190,000 businesses, employing nearly 7 million people, in the UK. Other employers’ organisations operating in the UK include the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Forum of Private Business (FPB). These organisations provide smaller businesses with a link to national and regional government and provide business advice and support. Current employer organisations that do engage in social and employment affairs include the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) and the Local Government Association (LGA). Employer organisation density in the UK is estimated at around 30–40%. Compared with trade unions, the level of information regarding employers’ organisations is poor.

Employers’ organisations ­– membership and density

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Source

Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees

No data

No data

No data

No data

No data

Visser (2014)

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments*

n.a.

28%

n.a.

n.a

n.a

European Company Survey 2013

* Percentage of employees working in an establishment that is a member of any employer organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations

Main employers’ organisations and confederations

Long name

Abbreviation

Members

Year

Involved in collective bargaining

Confederation of British Industry

CBI

Around 7 million in approximately 190,000 businesses

2015 (CBI Annual Report and Accounts 2015)

No

British Chambers of Commerce

BCC

Over 5 million employees organised across 52 chambers

Current – from the BCC website

No

Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Owing to the UK voluntarist tradition, policy concertation has been uncommon and there are currently few formal mechanisms or forums for tripartite concertation in the country. From 1962 a tripartite National Economic Development Council existed, in which the government and UK social partners discussed economic policy, but this was abolished in 1992. In the late 1970s, consultation between the government, employers and trade unions was also growing in importance. However, the Thatcher government, which was elected in 1979, sought to eradicate any forms of corporatism. Since then, tripartism or corporatism has not been reintroduced on a comprehensive or formal basis.

The social partners report reduced tripartite engagement since the election of the coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government in 2010 (interviews were conducted with representatives of TUC and CBI as part of Eurofound research on the Role of social partners in the European Semester). They continue to be consulted by the public authorities on the direction of public policy in the country on an ad hoc basis, but such consultations are usually bilateral. The social partners in effect receive de facto recognition of their position by the government through their involvement in various consultations with government departments.

There is de facto tripartite representation in a series of agencies, and though the peak-level social partners are consulted about the nomination of employer and worker representatives on the boards of such bodies, they no longer have an automatic monopoly of the available seats.

For example, the social partners are represented on the Low Pay Commission (LPC), an independent UK body that issues recommendations for increases in the national minimum wage. The LPC board consists of nine members: three trade union representatives, three employers and three labour market relations experts. The LPC receives a remit from government each year, which outlines the issues it is to consider. The LPC publishes its response in a report to government each October, which contains its recommendations on the future level of the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates, and related matters.

In considering the issues in the remit, the LPC completes detailed analysis of the evidence before making any recommendations. It takes an open and consultative approach to its work. The information it uses is gathered through wide-ranging research and consultations, including visits, discussions with businesses, workers, representative bodies, government and academics. In reporting to the government, the LPC explains the procedures it used, along with the reasons for its recommendations.

At the sectoral level, the UK social partners are involved in the sector skills councils (SSCs), which seek to improve the skills of workers in the UK. The SSCs are ‘employer-led’, although they actively involve trade unions, professional bodies and other key stakeholders in consultations over skill needs in particular sectors and how these will be best met.

The main issues for concertation are therefore skills and training and low pay.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies

Name

Type

Level

Issues covered

Low Pay Commission

Tripartite

National

Wages

Workplace-level employee representation

The main workplace-level channel of employee representation in the UK is via the recognition of trade unions by employers for the purposes of collective bargaining. The most authoritative UK study of workplace-level structures is the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS).

According to the 2011 WERS, 22% of workplaces with five or more employees recognised at least one trade union. The incidence of union recognition is much higher in larger workplaces, and increased between the 2004 and 2011 WERS. In 2004, 44% of workplaces with 50 or more employees had union representation, and in 2011 this had increased to 50%. In addition, membership in the public sector was much higher in 2011; at 92%, compared with 12% for private sector services and 9% for private sector manufacturing. The extent of union recognition has declined continually from the early 1980s.

Another channel of employee representation in some workplaces is that of joint consultative committees (JCCs), which are sometimes known as works councils or employee forums. These are broadly concerned with consultation rather than negotiation. Although in some cases JCCs are an alternative to, or substitute for, union representation, they are also prevalent in workplaces that recognise unions. The WERS 2004 found that JCCs were present in 14% of workplaces with over 50 staff. This number fell to 13% in 2011. Again, JCCs were more common in public sector workplaces and in larger workplaces. The proportion of workplaces with JCCs has been falling since the late 1980s, but between 1998 and 2004 the decline was primarily evident in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees; among larger workplaces, the incidence of JCCs was broadly stable. Between 2004 and 2011 the number of workplaces employing between 100 and 249 people with an on-site joint consultative committee doubled from 9% to 18%, but there were no statistically significant changes for other workplaces.

The primary basis for both union recognition and the establishment of JCCs has traditionally been voluntary agreement. However, since 1999 in the case of trade union recognition and 2004 in the case of information and consultation (ICE) arrangements, legislation has existed in the UK enabling unions and employees, respectively, to use statutory procedures to seek the introduction of representation arrangements where they are not established voluntarily. In practice, though, the effect of the legislation may have been ‘legally prompted voluntarism’. Trade unions naturally prefer recognition rather than seats on JCCs, which may explain why trade union response to the ICE regulations has been somewhat ambivalent.

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies

 

Regulation

Composition

Competences of the body

Involved in company level collective bargaining?

Thresholds/rules when they need to be/can be set up

Joint consultative committees (JCCs)

Not usually. JCCs may be set up according to statutory procedures, but the vast majority are voluntary. The Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) regulations are part of the Employment Relations Act 2004.

JCCs must include representatives from management and employees. Employee representatives can be trade union representatives.

The issues covered in JCC consultation are determined by the committees themselves rather than specified by legislation. The key is that these are consultative arrangements. They are not collective bargaining forums, nor are they negotiating meetings.

Most JCCs are set up via voluntary agreement. Trigger mechanisms apply for statutory regulation, but in organisations of 50 or more employees, 10% of employees are required to start the statutory procedures.

Employee representation at establishment level

In the figure, we see a comparison between United Kingdom and European Union for the people with 'Establishment size : All' when asked 'Official structure of employee representation present at establishment'. For the 'Yes' answer, United Kingdom's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'No' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: ECS 2013. Private sector establishments with more than 10 employees. Eurofound data visualisation.

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

Bargaining system

In the UK, the dominant level for the setting of pay and working time is the company or plant level in the private sector. In areas of the public sector – and in a small section of the private sector – sector-level agreements are concluded. In some parts of the public sector, pay levels are determined by pay review bodies (PRBs) that recommend levels to the government. Traditionally, the government has accepted the recommendations of the PRBs, though in the recent case of NHS workers, the recommendations were rejected, prompting industrial action.

There are no national intersectoral agreements in the UK, nor is there any tradition of this, aside from a very brief period in the 1970s. In 2015, the coverage rate of collective agreements in the UK was 27.9%. There is a large discrepancy between figures for the public and private sectors, with collective bargaining covering 60.7% of public sector employees in 2015, compared with 16.1% for the private sector (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2016).

In line with the UK voluntarist tradition, collective agreements are voluntary instruments that are ‘binding in honour only’. However, the terms of collective agreements are normally incorporated into individual contracts of employment that are then legally enforceable.

Wage bargaining coverage

The most common form of collective bargaining in the UK is at company level. Sectoral- and national-level bargaining are much less common. This pattern is well known and has been the generally accepted situation regarding collective bargaining since the 1980s.

The WERS 2004 and 2011 provide estimates for the percentage of workplaces where pay is determined via collective bargaining. In 2011, pay was set by multiemployer bargaining in 7% of workplaces, 5% set pay by single employer bargaining and 2% engaged in workplace-level bargaining. Large differences are observed by sector. For the categories of multiemployer bargaining, single employer bargaining and workplace-level bargaining, respectively, the 2011 figures are 43% public, 2% private; 17% public, 3% private; and 1% public, 2% private. The only significant change between 2004 and 2011 was the reduction in multiemployer bargaining in the public sector, which was down from 58% to 43%.

ONS figures continue to show a decline in the proportions of workers who are covered by collective agreements set between trade unions and employers’ organisations. The figures for 2015 show that 27.9% of workers are covered (a slight increase from the 2013 figure of 27.5%). Aside from this, the proportion covered has been in decline since ONS began this time series in 1996.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees from different sources

Level

Percentage of employees covered

Source

All levels

57%

2013 – ECS

All, excluding national level

54%

2013 – ECS

Any level

92%

2010 – SES

Any level between employer and trade union

27.9%

2015 – ONS

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with >10 employees (NACE B–S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings Survey, companies with >10 employees (NACE B–S), single answer: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement. For more information on methodology, see here. ONS, variable is % of employees whose pay and conditions are agreed in negotiations between the employer and trade union.

Bargaining levels

In the UK, the dominant level for the setting of pay and working time is the company or plant level in the private sector. In areas of the public sector – and in a small section of the private sector – sector-level agreements are concluded.

Levels of collective bargaining, 2016

 

National level (intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level

 

Wages

Working time

Wages

Working time

Wages

Working time

Principal or dominant level

       

x

x

Important but not dominant level

   

x

x

   

Articulation

In the UK there are no formal mechanisms that link the different levels of bargaining.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

The bargaining round is generally viewed as commencing in the autumn (August) and finishing in the summer (July). Settlements are spread throughout the year, with some concentration between October and April.

Coordination

No formal mechanisms exist for the coordination of wage bargaining in the UK. However, in practice, trade unions in different companies and sectors often share information with one another, and agreements in certain companies and sectors often act as informal benchmarks for negotiators in other areas.

Extension mechanisms

Collective agreements are not subject to extension and so are subsequently never extended by legislation, and there are no voluntary mechanisms for doing so.

Derogation mechanisms

Given the voluntary nature of the agreements, there is no need for derogations.

Expiry of collective agreements

If agreements expire or are not renegotiated, then in practical terms there is no effect. Given the nature of agreements, they are not legally binding. However, elements of agreements can and are written up into individual terms and conditions of employment, which are legally enforceable. Therefore, in practice the individual contract continues with the terms of the old agreement.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

Recent evidence in the UK has shown a reduction in the breadth of issues covered by collective bargaining.

The 2011 WERS found ‘a significant diminution in the scope of [bargaining]’ since the previous survey in 2004. Comparison between the 2004 and 1998 surveys is not possible because of changes in the instruments. In 2011, of seven issues specified, negotiations occurred on all of these in, or covering, just 3% of private sector workplaces where trade unions were recognised, compared to 8% in 2004, and none of the items had been subject to negotiation in, or covering, 37% of workplaces, as compared with 28% in 2004. By issue, there were substantial declines concerning working hours, holidays, pensions and training, leaving pay as the only issue negotiated over in many workplaces.

Industrial action and disputes

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

Trade unions in the UK do not enjoy the right to strike per se. Rather, they have protection from common law torts in certain, restricted, circumstances. When workers strike or take other forms of industrial action they will usually, by doing so, be in breach of their contracts of employment or their contracts for services. This means that when trade unions or trade union officials, or others, call for, or otherwise organise, industrial action they are in practice calling for breach, or interference with the performance, of contracts. They may also be interfering with the ability of the employer of those taking the industrial action, and of other employers, to fulfil commercial contracts.

As such, under the common law (case-law developed by the courts as opposed to statute law passed by Parliament), it is unlawful to induce people to break a contract or to interfere with the performance of a contract, or to threaten to do either of these things. Thus, without some special protection, trade unions or trade union officials would face the possibility of legal action being taken against them for inducing breaches of contract every time they called a strike.

The ‘statutory immunities’ were introduced into legislation to stop this happening. They have the effect that trade unions and individuals can, in certain circumstances, organise industrial action without fear of being sued in the courts. It should be noted that the immunities protect principally those who call for, threaten to call for, or otherwise organise industrial action. They do not protect individuals who take industrial action from legal proceedings by their employer for breaking their contracts, although they can in certain circumstances protect them from dismissal.

The available immunities are subject to a number of restrictions. When a trade union or individual calls for, threatens to call for, or otherwise organises industrial action, a number of tests must be satisfied if the union, or other person, calling for or organising the action are to have the protection of the statutory immunities. Immunity will apply only where:

  • There is a trade dispute, and the action is called in contemplation or furtherance of that dispute.
  • A trade union which calls for, or otherwise organises, the action has first held a properly conducted secret ballot.
  • A trade union which calls for, or otherwise organises, the action has provided the required notice of official industrial action to employers likely to be affected, following the ballot (at least seven days).
  • The action is not ‘secondary action’ (unless the act is a call for such industrial action made in the course of peaceful picketing at a picket’s own place of work as the law allows).
  • The action is not intended to promote union closed shop practices, or to prevent employers using non-union firms as suppliers.
  • The action is not in support of any employee dismissed while taking unofficial industrial action.
  • The action does not involve unlawful picketing

The Trade Union Act of 2016 made two significant changes to the law on when a union can call a strike lawfully. To make a strike legitimate, a union will still be required to obtain a majority in favour of strike action out of those who have voted and, in addition:

  • At least 50% of those entitled to vote in a ballot must have voted in all cases
  • Where those involved in the dispute work in an ‘important public service’ there will be a requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote in the ballot have voted in favour of strike action.

The government has yet to publish regulations setting out precisely what ‘important public services’ means, but it will include activities within the health service sector, the education of under-17-year-olds, fire services, and transport services (this includes rail services; border security; and the decommissioning of nuclear installations, and the management of radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel).

In practice, the most common forms of industrial action are:

  • strikes;
  • action short of a strike, which may include ‘work to rule’ and/or an overtime ban.

Industrial action developments 2012–2016

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

Working days lost per 1,000 employees

9

16

27

6

Number of strikes

131

114

155

106

Workers involved (1,000s)

237

395

733

81

Days lost by reason (1,000s)

Wage disputes: 168

Other (including redundancy):

80

Wage disputes: 419

Other (including redundancy): 24

Wage disputes: 703

Other (including redundancy): 86

Wage disputes:

121

Other (including redundancy):

50

 

Source: ONS Labour Disputes Annual Article 2015.

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is the main body involved in conciliation and arbitration in the UK. It is an autonomous, tripartite body established by statute and its task is to improve industrial relations. The largest part of Acas’s work is individual conciliation, which was extended in 2013 with the introduction of compulsory early conciliation as a prerequisite for making an employment tribunal claim. Arbitration is a relatively small part of its work, mainly because it has no powers to arbitrate without the consent of both sides. Arbitration is neither compulsory nor legally binding.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

Individual employees may seek to resolve disputes informally through dispute resolution mechanisms that their employer has in place or they may seek redress through the tribunal system.

Since 6 May 2014, anyone wishing to make a claim to an employment tribunal must first notify Acas in order to provide an opportunity to resolve their dispute through the early conciliation process and without the need for a claim. From 6 April, this service was available on a voluntary basis. Since 2013, fees have been applied to bring cases to an employment tribunal. The introduction of fees has been challenged in the courts by the Unison trade union.

Tribunal statistics and early conciliation statistics are available, but because early conciliation is new and the tribunal process has changed markedly since the introduction of fees, there is a major discontinuity in the data.

Statistics on applications to tribunals (notifications) and take-up of early conciliation are available on the Acas website. These figures are difficult to interpret due to the legislative context and the procedure for taking a case to tribunal. For example, the first quarterly update gives the percentage of cases where early conciliation was rejected by either the employer or employee. However, this does not mean that all other cases proceeded to tribunal: some will have been withdrawn, other settlements may have been brokered and some will still be pending.

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations are the relationship between the individual worker and their employer. This relationship is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship. This section looks into the start and termination of the employment relationship and entitlements and obligations in the United Kingdom.

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

Children are able to undertake some part-time paid employment from the age of 13, or younger in areas such as modelling, television and theatre if they have a performance licence. They may only undertake full-time employment once they have reached the minimum school-leaving age, which is the end of the academic year when they turn 17.

Acas guidelines on contracts of employment state: ‘A contract “starts” as soon as an offer of employment is accepted. Starting work proves that you accept the terms and conditions offered by the employer’ and ‘Most employees are legally entitled to a Written Statement of the main terms and conditions of employment within two calendar months of starting work. This should include details of things like pay, holidays and working hours.’

Dismissal and termination procedures

Employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed if they have worked for an employer for over two years. If an employee has less than two years’ service, they may claim unfair dismissal in a few circumstances, such as if the dismissal is related to discrimination or a protected disclosure. For a dismissal to be fair in law, it must be for one of the following reasons: conduct, capability, illegality or some other substantial reason. The employer should also have followed the steps laid out in the Acas code of practice for discipline and grievance.

Part of the Acas code of practice sets out that employers should establish their own written procedures to deal with discipline and grievance. In the case of a dismissal, failure to follow or to have a written procedure does not in itself make the dismissal unfair.

See also further information on unemployment benefit provisions in the United Kingdom.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

Shared Parental Leave replaced Additional Paternity Leave entitlement, although two weeks of paid Paternity Leave continues to be available to qualifying fathers and the partner of a mother or adopter. The Shared Parental Leave (SPL) regulations came into force on 1 December 2014 and apply to eligible parents where a baby is due, or a child is placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015.

However, take-up of SPL has been low with only a small proportion of men eligible to take the leave having exercised the right (CIPD, 2016). Research across 200 organisations by the consultancy My Family Care has revealed that in 40% of the organisations surveyed, no male employees had taken SPL. Moreover, data from HMRC shows that only 3,000 couples took SPL in the first three months of 2016, which equates to 2% of those families in which the mother took maternity leave during this time. This is at the lower end of the government's forecast of an uptake by eligible fathers of between 2% and 8%.

Statutory leave arrangements

Maternity leave

Maximum duration

52 weeks. The earliest point at which leave can begin is 11 weeks before the due date. Two weeks’ leave are compulsory following the birth. (For factory workers, the compulsory leave is four weeks.)

Reimbursement

If the mother qualifies, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. 90% of average weekly earnings (before tax) are paid for the first six weeks. GBP 139.58 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) is paid for the next 33 weeks..

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

The provisions for maternity leave are established through the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 and subsequent amendments.

Parental leave

Maximum duration

Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK for babies born or adopted after 5 April 2015.

Reimbursement

The leave is paid at the same level as SMP. It is paid at the same level throughout for 39 weeks. In other words, there is a maximum payment for the first six weeks which does not apply in the case of SMP.

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

There is no mandatory period of paternity leave. Employees are entitled to two weeks’ statutory paid leave. As with all schemes, employers may choose to enhance the period and/or the pay.

Reimbursement

The leave is paid at the same level as SMP.

Who pays?

SMP is paid by the employer, though it can be recouped from the government. Usually the employer can recoup 92% of the amount, though if the company qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief, the full amount – plus 3% for National Insurance contributions – can be claimed back.

Legal basis

Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay (General) Regulations 2002

Sick leave

Sick pay may be contractual, in which case it may be on the basis of full salary (for a period) or such lesser sum (if any) as the employer deems fit to pay. Entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP) arises only after three successive days of sickness or in other words, on the fourth day (whether or not these fall on work days). Only workers who earn at least the lower threshold for National Insurance contributions (GBP 112) are eligible to GBP 88.45 a week (currently). It is payable for a maximum 28 weeks. Since 6 April 2014 employers can no longer recoup SSP. Statutory sick pay is not truly related to earnings (over and above the threshold), but contractual sick pay typically is. Privileged workers (including many in the public sector) may be eligible to full pay for six months followed by half pay for a further six months. This takes the form of the employer ‘topping up’ the statutory rate.

Termination of an employment contract on the grounds of sickness may be legal depending on a range of issues, including whether the employer has followed the Acas code of practice and whether suitable alternative employment has been considered. If the employee is suffering from a disability as defined by the 2010 Equality Act, then the employer is obliged to consider whether ‘reasonable adjustments’ could help the employee return to work before any decision is taken to dismiss.

Retirement age

There is no longer a default retirement age (DRA) for UK employees. Most employees can work for as long as they want. Some employers can set a maximum retirement age if they are able to justify the decision.

Pay

Pay

Pay: For workers, the reward for work and main source of income; for employers, a cost of production and focus of bargaining and legislation. This section looks into minimum wage setting in the United Kingdom and guides the reader to further material on collective wage bargaining.

Minimum wages

A national minimum wage has been in place in the UK since 1997. The National Living Wage (NLW) was introduced by the Conservative Government in 2015 and came into force on 1 April 2016. To qualify for the National Living Wage, the worker must be over 25 years of age.

The rates are set by the Low Pay Commission (LPC), which advises the government on low pay and recommends appropriate rates. There are five tiers of national minimum wage rates: the National Living Wage rate for those over 25; a rate for those aged between 21 and 24; a rate for those aged between 18 and 20; a rate for those under 18; and an apprentice rate.

The current national minimum wage rates (from April 2017) are:

  • the over-25/NLW rate will increase to GBP 7.50 per hour;
  • the rate for 21- to 24-year-olds will increase to GBP 7.05 per hour;
  • the rate for 18- to 20-year-olds will increase to GBP 5.60 per hour;
  • the rate for under-18s will increase to GBP 4.05 an hour;
  • the apprentice rate will be GBP 3.50 per hour

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see Eurofound’s topical update on statutory minimum wage in the EU 2017 or visit Eurostat.

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please consult Eurofound’s collectively wage bargaining portal.

Working time

Working time

Working time: ‘Any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in the United Kingdom.

Working time regulation

The statutory maximum working week is 48 hours, though workers/firms may ‘opt out’ of this limit. The 48-hour maximum is calculated over a reference period which is normally 17 weeks.

Working time has featured as an issue in collective bargaining for many years. In recent years there have been negotiations around reduced hours of work to reduce redundancies.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult Eurofound’s report on Working time developments in the 21st century: Work duration and its regulation.

Overtime regulation

Overtime in the UK is largely unconstrained, as individual workers may opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week. Health and safety legislation may regulate overtime in certain industries. Collective bargaining, which is most commonly undertaken at the company or establishment level, rarely regulates overtime. Decisions on overtime are more commonly taken on an ad hoc basis.

Part-time work

Part-time work is not defined in legal terms. Full-time workers usually work at least 35 hours per week. The latest figures (January 2017) show that 8.55 million people in the UK work on a part-time basis; this is 86,000 more than for a year earlier.

Eurostat Labour Force Survey data for 2016 indicate that 23.7% of those employed in the UK are in part-time work. This is a slight decrease from the figure reported for 2011, when 24.1% were employed on a part-time basis. Since the economic crisis, it has been reported in various sources that growth has tended to be concentrated in low-paid and part-time work.

Part-time workers have legal protection against less favourable treatment on the grounds of their part-time status.

Persons employed part-time in the United Kingdom and EU28 (% of total employment)

 

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Total - EU28

18.2

18.6

19.0

19.0

19.0

18.9

Total – UK

24.1

24.4

24.2

24.0

23.7

23.7

Women - EU28

31.0

31.4

31.8

31.7

31.5

31.4

Women – UK

40.7

40.9

40.2

40.0

39.6

39.5

Men - EU28

7.4

7.7

8.1

8.2

8.2

8.2

Men - UK

9.5

10.0

10.1

9.8

9.7

9.8

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsi_pt_a] – Persons employed part-time (20 to 64 years of age) – total and by sex.

As detailed in the table, the proportion of workers employed on part-time contracts is higher in the UK than the EU28 average. This applies to both women and men working part-time in the UK. However, the number of part-time female workers in the UK is above the EU28 average. Part-time workers earn less, on average, per hour than their full-time counterparts, which contributes to the gender pay gap. Moreover, women tend to work in occupations (caring, administration) which offer lower salaries – another contributor to the gender pay gap.

Night work

The UK Government defines staff who regularly work at least 3 hours during the ‘night period’ as night workers. The night period is 11pm to 6am, unless the worker and employer agree a different night period. If they do, it must be 7 hours long and include midnight to 5am. It must be agreed in writing. Staff may also be night workers if there’s a collective agreement (eg trade union agreement) that states their work is night work.

Shift work

There is no specific definition of shift work in law, but it usually means:

  • a work activity scheduled outside standard daytime hours, where there may be a handover of duty from one individual or work group to another;
  • a pattern of work where one employee replaces another on the same job within a 24-hour period.

Standard daytime hours are considered as:

  • a work schedule involving an activity during the day, commonly for a period of eight n hours between 7.00 am and 7.00 pm. There are usually two periods of work, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, separated by a lunch-time break

Weekend work

No specific definition exists, but a perusal of relevant legislative sources indicates both Saturday and Sunday are included.

Rest and breaks

The Government uses the definitions specified under the WTD for rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.

Working time flexibility

On 30 June 2014, the UK government introduced the right to request flexible working. This extended the right to request flexible working to all groups, whereas previously the right to request it had been restricted to those with childcare or other caring commitments. Employers can still refuse requests for business reasons, and in practice many employers operated similar policies prior to the legislation. Therefore, the figures in the table reflect the position under the previous legislation.

Do you have fixed start and finishing time in your work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between United Kingdom and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have fixed starting and finishing times in your work?'. For the 'No' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, United Kingdom's score is lower than the European Union score. Data is based on question 39d from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

Maintaining health and well-being should be a high priority for workers and employers alike. Health is an asset closely associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. A healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce: organisations can experience loss of productivity through the ill-health of their workers. This section looks into psychosocial risks and health and safety in the United Kingdom.

Health and safety at work

The UK data indicates that the number of accidents resulting in at least four days’ absence rose sharply between 2012 and 2013 – by 11.7%, after having been in decline over the three-year period between 2010 and 2012. Between 2013 and 2014, accidents increased by 0.5%. In absolute terms, the accident rate per 1,000 workers has remained fairly constant, after the 8.5% decrease between 2011 and 2012.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

All accidents

183,598

169,043

159,404

156,416

143,171

159,893

160,700

Percent change on previous year

-

-7.9

-5.7

-1.9

-8.5

11.7

0.5

Per 1,000 employees

7.2

6.8

6.4

6.2

5.7

6.3

6.2

Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed]

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information on the types of accidents based on the RIDDOR scheme. Regulations on reporting were amended in 2013, meaning that exact year-on-year comparison is not possible. However, the trend is that the rate is falling.

Total reported non-fatal major/specified accidents, 2009–2016

 

2009

2010

2010

2011

2011

2012

2012

2013

2013

2014

2014

2015

2015

2016

Non-fatal major accidents (total)

26,268

24,944

22,094

20,214

19,118

18,328

18,056

Note: For 2013–2014 onwards, the figures refer to the new category of ‘major or specified injuries’.

Source: HSE 2016.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information on the types of accidents based on the RIDDOR scheme as well as worker self-reports of injuries using the Labour Force Survey data. Regulations on reporting were amended in 2013 (moving from having to report on injuries/accidents resulting in over three-day absences to seven-days and over), meaning that exact year-on-year comparison is not possible. However, the HSE reports that the trend is that major injuries have been falling.

The latest HSE statistics for 2015/16 state that based on self-reporting in the Labour Force Survey, an estimated 621,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury at work. Of these, 200,000 led to over three days’ absence from work and 152,000 led to over seven days’ absence. Based on employer reporting under the RIDDOR regulations (which only includes over-seven days’ injuries and specified injuries, there were 72,702 employee non-fatal injuries (HSE, 2017).

Psychosocial risks

The HSE monitors risks at work and guidance is produced to deal with psychosocial risks. For example, there are separate guidance documents on stress for organisations, managers and employees. In practice, collective agreements may cover issues such as workloads and rest periods and other issues that are psychosocial risk factors.

The data in the table indicate that of the psychosocial risk factors, high work intensity is the one that is most commonly experienced. In 2000 and 2010, over two-thirds of workers reported working to tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time. In 2015, this had increased to 75%. Approximately one-third of workers reported working more than 10 hours at least once a month for each of the three survey waves. By 2015, this figure had increased to 44% of respondents; an increase of 9 percentage points (a 26% increase). Discrimination was found to be much less common than the other two psychosocial risk factors, with approximately one in twenty workers reporting having experienced this in the 2005 and 2010 surveys. However, this had increased to 7% by 2015. The data do not give information on the proportions of workers who have experienced risk factors in combination. However, it should be noted that on each of these three measures, conditions as reported by the sample of UK workers have deteriorated between 2010 and 2015.

Work intensity: Do you have enough time to get the job done?

In the figure, we see a comparison between United Kingdom and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have enough time to get the job done?'. For the 'Always or most of the time' answer, United Kingdom's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Rarely or never' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Sometimes' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 61g from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Skills, learning and employability

Skills, learning and employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings. This section briefly summarises the system of the United Kingdom for ensuring skills and employability and looks into the extent of training.

National system for ensuring skills and employability

Skills policy in the UK is largely developed through skills councils, which are based on sectors of the economy. These bodies are employer led, though there is often trade union representation. There are currently 16 sector skills councils (SSCs) and five sector skills bodies. These bodies are responsible for working with employers to define skills needs and skills standards in their sectors.

In the case of those in receipt of out-of-work benefits, a condition of benefit eligibility may be referral by the state agency responsible for benefit payments, to training or skill development. In such cases, the training or skill development is often of a generic nature and is not targeted at entry to particular sectors or jobs. The social partners are largely excluded from this process, though there may be involvement from employers or employer groups on local skills boards.

Training

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) is the main body responsible for offering guidance on skills and development issues in the UK. UKCES is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The commissioners represent business, the trade unions and employment advisors.

The figures for paid time off for training reveal a clear association between the proportion of employees who have been able to access this and employee representation at the company or establishment level. The figures for companies with employee representation are similar even when establishment size is taken into consideration. Across all sizes of establishments with employee representation, more than 80% of workplaces gave at least 20% of employees paid time off for training. The figures for establishments that do not have employee representation show lower proportions of employees being able to access training, and the proportions are lowest in smaller establishments. Sixty per cent of establishments with 10–49 employees, and no representation, gave paid time off for training to less than 20% of employees, compared with 41% of establishments with 50–249 employees and 37% of establishments with 250 employees or more.

Training: Have you had any on the job training in the last 12 months?

In the figure, we see a comparison between United Kingdom and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Have you had on-the-job training in the last 12 months?'. For the 'No' answer, United Kingdom's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 65c from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Work organisation

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effects on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation.

For the United Kingdom, the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013, 40% of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 24% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers and another 18% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

Work organisation: Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between United Kingdom and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?'. For the 'No' answer, United Kingdom's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, United Kingdom's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 54b from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, religion and belief, marital status and age.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a non-departmental public body (NDPB), established under the Equality Act 2006 as a corporate body. Its role is to challenge all forms of discrimination and to promote and protect human rights. As such, its remit covers issues relating to equality at work.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

From a legal point of view, the right to equal pay for equal work between men and women is found in the Equality Act 2010.

The Act implies a sex equality clause into everyone’s contract of employment, modifying any term that is less favourable to someone of the opposite sex. The European Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission publish codes of practice, which although not legally binding may be used in evidence in equal pay claims.

The law requires a four-stage approach:

  • selecting an appropriate comparator of the opposite sex;
  • proving that the comparator is employed to carry out equal work;
  • comparing the claimant’s and the comparator’s terms and conditions of employment;
  • assessing whether the employer can explain any discrepancy in pay (‘the material factor defence’) and whether the difference is due to sex discrimination.

According to Eurostat data, the gender pay gap in the UK narrowed substantially between 2002 and 2011, from 27.3% to 19.5%. In 2014, however, the gap increased again to 20.9% (Eurostat, 2016; tsdsc340).

If available, you can also refer to the most important/recent national studies which provide figures The ONS also provides information on the gender pay gap using statistics from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). From 2009, the ONS has highlighted the following aspects of the gender pay gap:

  • female full-time employees’ median pay compared with male full-time employees’ median pay;
  • female part-time employees’ median pay compared with male part-time employees’ median pay;
  • all female employees’ median pay compared with all male employees’ median pay.

The latest ASHE estimates (2016) indicate a gender pay gap of 19.2% for all employees in 2015. However, the ONS states that for full-time employees, the gap has narrowed to 9.4%, the lowest level since 1997. The ONS states that part-time workers – both men and women – earn less, on average, per hour than their full-time counterparts and as a much higher proportion of women work part time – 41%, compared with only 11% of men – this accounts for the large gender pay gap that exists across all employees.

The TUC has been keen to encourage its member trade unions to include gender issues in collective bargaining. The TUC tracks progress of its affiliates in terms of their equality actions in its biennial equality audit. It reports that unions have achieved most success in negotiating around women’s pay and employment in the last three years, in particular gaining employer agreement to carry out equal pay audits and take steps to improve the pay of the lowest paid, who are predominantly women in many workplaces. Equal pay remains a bargaining priority for most unions. The equality audit also revealed that trade unions have frequently been able to negotiate an extension to the statutory rights to flexible working. Just under half of unions identified that they had negotiated flexible working policies with employers that went beyond the statutory minimum. The TUC biennial equality audit offers many examples of innovative practice to improve gender equality at work.

Employment tribunals can order an employer to carry out an equal pay audit in circumstances where it is clear they have breached the equal pay provisions in the Equality Act 2010. This power came into force on 1 October 2014.

New regulations (the Equality Act [Gender Pay Gap Information] Regulations 2016) on measures requiring large private and voluntary sector employers (those with 250 or more employees) to publish information on the difference in pay between female and male staff came into force on 1 October 2016. The first reports on the pay gap identified at 30 April 2017 will need to be published before 30 April 2018. Thereafter, companies need to report annually. Questions as to efficacy have been raised, as the government has chosen not to include enforcement measures or sanctions in the regulations, apparently relying on ‘competition and peer pressure’ and potential reputational embarrassment to ensure compliance. Moreover, large group organisations may find they are not subject to the regulations as there is currently no obligation to aggregate employees in individual subsidiary or service companies: the reporting requirement only relates to individual employers.

Quota regulations

The idea of quotas for women on company boards has been discussed and was the subject of a review, which decided not to recommend quotas at the time, though this option would be considered if further progress towards greater equality was not made (BIS, 2011). The Women on Boards Steering Group meets every six months to review progress and reports are produced annually. Moreover, in 2015, a five-year review was published by the Steering Group. In 2010, a voluntary target had been set with the aim of increasing the representation of women on FTSE 100 boards to at least 25% by 2015. The review was published in October, stating that the target has been met (Women on Boards, 2015). It reports that the representation of women on FTSE 350 boards has more than doubled since 2010, currently standing at 26.1% on FTSE 100 boards and 19.6% on FTSE 250 boards. The Review also reports on a reduction in the number of all-male boards. There were 152 in 2011 but by 2016, there were no all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and only 15 in the FTSE 250.

According to the Equality Act, setting quotas would count as positive discrimination, which would be unlawful. However, it is not unlawful for an employer to treat, for example, a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person. This is known as positive action. In relation to disability, the ‘two ticks’ system would guarantee an interview for a job vacancy for every disabled person who met the minimum entry criteria (Government Equalities Office, 2011).

Bibliography

Bibliography

Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (2017), Annual report of the Certification Officer 2015–2016, London: BEIS.

CBI (2015) Annual Report and Accounts 2015. London: CBI.

CIPD (2016) ‘Low take-up of Shared Parental Leave is due to pay rate.’ People Management, 9 September.

Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) (2011) Women on boards.

Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) (2016) Trade union membership 2015, Statistical Bulletin, London.

Government Equalities Office (2011), Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A quick start guide to using positive action in recruitment and promotion.

TUC (2013) ‘ Involuntary temporary jobs driving rising employment ’, press release.

TUC (2016) TUC Directory 2016. TUC: London.

Visser, J. (2014) ‘ICTWSS database: Database on institutional characteristics of trade unions, wage setting, state intervention and social pacts in 34 countries between 1960 and 2014., Institute for Advanced Labour Studies, AIAS, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam. http://www.uva-aias.net/207

van Wanrooy, B., Bewley, H., Bryson, A., Forth, J., Freeth, S., Stokes, L. and Wood, S. (2013) Employment relations in the recession: Findings from the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Women on Boards (2015) Improving the Gender Balance on British Boards: The Davies Review Five Year Summary. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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