Women celebate equal pay victories

Treasury approves significant increases to rectify unequal pay

Prospect has been successful in challenging pay systems where length of service had a disproportionate adverse impact on women members

More than five years after a European Court ruling that employers cannot lawfully pay some workers much higher salaries than others solely on the grounds of long service, Prospect has negotiated significant increases in pay for staff in nine civil service departments, agencies and non-departmental bodies.

The marathon started in 2001 when Prospect member Bernadette Cadman presented a claim to the employment tribunal under the Equal Pay Act.

The union demonstrated that pay differences of up to £9,000 existed for many years between the Manchester principal health and safety inspector and her male colleagues in the same grade.

After going through the English courts, Bernadette Cadman’s case went all the way to the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ ruled that where an employee can provide evidence that raises ‘serious doubts’ about whether length of service is an appropriate criterion for determining pay, employers have to objectively justify assertions that greater experience enables employees to do their job better, by showing the pay system is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

After the ECJ ruling in 2006, Prospect lodged over 80 cases from nine civil service departments, agencies and non-departmental bodies. All the cases centred around pay disparities between men and women working in the same grade.

Their case was further strengthened when the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Christine Wilson’s ‘sister’ case against long seniority based pay scales in 2009.

At a preliminary tribunal hearing in February 2011 for a group of members against the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (now AHVLA), the judge ruled that the women claimants had:

  • established serious doubt on the appropriateness of the pay system and
  • that AHVLA would be required to justify the differences in a full hearing.

Shortly before the hearing, which was due to be heard at the end of January 2012, these claims were settled.

All the other cases lodged in 2006 have also settled, with the Treasury approving very significant increases in pay.

In the AHVLA and the Valuation Office Agency the settlements were rolled out to all staff in a similar position, not just to the individual claimants.

In the AHVLA, the settlement covered vets on the same pay grade who had been in post for a similar time. In the VOA, it applied to employees in Bands 1-4 who were three years short of the maximum for the grade.

Prospect legal officer Marion Scovell said: “This is a significant moment for equal pay in the civil service but there is still a long way to go.

“A Prospect survey in 2010 showed a significant pay gap. Overall, 42 per cent of women respondents earned under £30k compared to 20 per cent of men, while almost 47 per cent of men earned more than £40k compared to only 24 per cent of women.”

Progression and the pay freeze

Prospect has worked hard over the last ten years to improve progression within pay bands and shorten pay scales. But the pay freeze, which has halted negotiated progression mechanisms, will exacerbate any existing inequalities and may well have significant effects on whether pay systems comply with the Equal Pay Act.

Equal pay audits

All public sector employers are required to address equal pay issues.

In many areas where progression was stopped because of the pay freeze, Prospect called for equal pay audits to find out whether the pay system had a disproportionate adverse impact by gender.

The audits are designed to establish the average salary by gender, and where women and men are within the pay band.

Where there is evidence of men clustering at the top end of the pay scale and women at the bottom, Prospect will consider equal pay claims, using the arguments from the Cadman case.

Prospect is also looking at further cases where the pay system may disproportionately impact on the grounds of race, disability, or age.