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Equal pay still an issue 50 years on

As the Equal Pay Act enters its 50th anniversary the number of Employment Tribunal claims is still high, according to global law firm DLA Piper.

The Equal Pay Act was given royal assent on 29 May 1970, and implemented the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The Act commenced more than five years later in December 1975 and has since been repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010.

Since the 2007/08 financial year, Employment Tribunals in England and Wales have received more than 368,000 complaints relating to equal pay, averaging almost 29,000* complaints a year.

Matters relating to equal pay make up 12 per cent of all complaints received by the Employment Tribunals, since the 2007/08 financial year, alongside other complaints such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, breaches of the Working Time Regulations 1998 and unlawful deductions from pay.

In the vast majority of cases, the equal pay claims will not reach a full hearing. This can be due to the claim being struck out at an early stage (19 per cent of cases), because the parties have achieved Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) conciliated settlements (18 per cent of cases) or because the case has been withdrawn (61 per cent of cases). However, due to the way in which the Employment Tribunal statistics are reported, many of those cases that are withdrawn are likely to have been due to a financial settlement being reached between the parties.

Jane Hannon, Employment partner at DLA Piper, said:

“Whilst the concept of equal pay for equal work has been around for 50 years, the consistently high number of Employment Tribunal claims year on year indicates that this is an issue which some employers are still grappling with. However, the Employment Tribunal statistics may only be the tip of the iceberg – it is not clear how many of the claims that are withdrawn before hearing (some 61 per cent of cases) are actually withdrawn in return for a financial settlement.

“In our experience, in non-unionised environments, the number of equal pay claims being brought is still comparatively low and many employers do not realise that they have an equal pay issue until pay is challenged by an employee. This is all the more reason for employers to keep equal pay front of mind when reviewing pay and conditions and to ensure that if there is any differential for employees doing like work, work rated equivalent or work of equal value, there is a genuine and material factor to justify this.”

*The average figure does not include data for the first three quarters of 2019/20 due to it not being a complete year.

The information was collated from the Ministry of Justice Employment Tribunal Quarterly statistics. The data analysed was from the first period of reporting in the financial year 2007/08 until the latest available data in the third quarter of 2019/20.

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