Government to go ahead with equal pay reforms
In May 2001, the UK government confirmed that it would be proceeding with plans to simplify existing legislation in a bid to speed up equal pay employment tribunal cases. The move is one of a number of steps intended to remedy the gender "pay gap".
On 8 May 2001, following consultation on earlier proposals (UK0101107N), the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) announced that it would be proceeding with measures to amend existing equal pay legislation to make it "simpler, faster and fairer". The reforms are intended to reduce the delay and procedural complexity often associated with the handling of equal pay cases by employment tribunals, and are among a range of government initiatives designed to help close the 18% average differential between between men and women's pay.
Employment minister Tessa Jowell outlined the changes the government is to introduce for equal pay claims in three key areas:
- simplifying the paperwork by enabling a group to claim on a single form and introducing a questionnaire to facilitate obtaining the necessary information from the employer at the outset;
- speeding up the tribunal process by measures such as encouraging tribunals to obtain advice from an "assessor," rather than asking for a formal report from an independent expert in equal value cases; and
- "making the system fairer" by removing the scope for tribunals to dismiss a claim where there are "no reasonable grounds" for thinking it will succeed, and abolishing the two-year limit on back pay.
The DfEE is to consult the Confederation of British Industry, Trades Union Congress, Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and other organisations about the details of the proposed changes.
Alongside legislative reform, the government is undertaking a number of other initiatives to "ensure that equal work equals equal pay". These include:
- the appointment of a number of "fair pay champions" from employer and trade union backgrounds whose brief is to promote good practice and heighten awareness of employment rights and responsibilities amongst their peers;
- the establishment of a women's employment and pay review, to be completed in autumn 2001, to look at ways of challenging unequal pay practices and promoting flexible working conditions and a better work/life balance; and
- the introduction of annual awards to recognise good practice by employers in promoting equal opportunities and pay, to be known as "Castle awards" after Barbara Castle, the Labour minister who was responsible for the original Equal Pay Act in 1970.
Although the government has rejected recommendations from the EOC for mandatory equal pay reviews by employers, it is encouraging the practice through extra funding for the EOC to promote pay reviews (EOC urges new action on equal pay - UK0104126F). On 8 May, Ms Jowell announced that the government is also to make funding available through the Union Learning Fund for a pilot programme to train full-time union officers and workplace representatives in carrying out pay reviews so that they can work with employers to undertake them successfully.