The Equal Pay Act at 50

Dylan Loughlin

In 1968, Sewing Machinists at Fords Dagenham Plant, Women, began striking against the company pay structure which favoured men and which paid them 87% of what their male counterparts got for similar work.

The 3-week strike reverberated across the country and triggered a meeting between the striking female workers and the then employment secretary Barbara castle which was a catalyst for the conception of new legislation – The Equal Pay Act.

The Equal Pay Act was given royal ascent 50 years ago today, on May 29th 1970 and gave both men and women the right to equal pay for equal work as well as other provisions. Did you know for example that women have the legal right to ask male co-workers how much they earn if they suspect that they may be experiencing pay discrimination?

50 years later, the Equal Pay Act has now been repealed and replaced with the Equality Act in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland, but the Trade Union Congress argues that inequality between Men & Women is still rife. According to the Office for National Statistics, the median gender pay gap, which is the percentage difference between average hourly earnings for men and women, is 20.2% in the UK.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that women may face barriers that men don’t face including an uneven divide of domestic work and lack of affordable childcare. We would encourage all organisations to take stock of what barriers may be preventing women from succeeding in your workplace and introduce systems to help them overcome them.

It’s important that you take stock to continue to meet your employment law obligations under equality legislation, to empower your workforce and to avoid costly employment tribunal cases given that 12% of all tribunal cases since 2008 have been around gender discrimination. Please reach out to us if you would like us to audit this with you.