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A Year in Equal Pay

Lara Kennedy and Tariro Nyoka of the employment department discuss how far the battle for equal pay has come.

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Lara is a solicitor who works in the employment department. She  specialises in equal pay and discrimination claims. Tariro is a paralegal in the employment department.
Five decades after legislation prohibiting less favourable pay and conditions of employment for women in the UK was enacted, equal pay is far from being a reality.
 
The issue of unequal pay is an important one as it negatively impacts a woman’s quality of life and choices. The aim of the law was to remedy this by giving women the right to receive equal pay for equal work. However, the burden of enforcement was put on the backs of women. The result has been very slow progress to date. 
 
Over the past year the issue of equal pay has again reared its head and has featured in the media on numerous occasions:
 
  • In January 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that Asda’s lower-paid store staff who are mainly female can compare themselves to higher paid warehouse workers who are mainly male in their equal pay claims. This was a major step forward in the fair pay battle.
  • In March 2019 the US women’s national soccer team filed a lawsuit against US soccer alleging institutionalised gender discrimination with Captain Megan Rapinoe making an impassioned plea to women all over the world calling on them to “fight like hell” until they achieve equality.
  • In June 2019 thousands of women across Switzerland took to the streets and went on strike to demand equal pay.
  • September 2019 saw the release of “Equal’’ a book by Carrie Gracie a BBC journalist who fought her own battle for equal pay. Her book focuses on the fact that we should and can fight for equal pay.
  • In October 2019 the #MeTooPay campaign was launched to end gender pay discrimination.
  • In January 2020 Samira Ahmed won her equal pay case against the BBC which confirmed that she was paid 85% less than a man for like work.
  • The Equal Pay Bill launched in January 2020 to modernise the law on equal pay by giving women a ‘right to know’ what a male comparator is paid in cases where they suspect they are not getting equal pay. 
 
The call for equal pay has grown louder and more insistent. This suggests that women have had enough of being undervalued and are taking on the challenge of enforcing their right to equal pay.
 
The historic undervaluing of ‘women’s work’ is something Leigh Day is challenging in the supermarkets, where roles that were traditionally undertaken by women in the stores are paid less than roles traditionally undertaken by men in the distribution centres, despite these roles 
being of equal value.
 
The inequality perpetuates the view of women as second-class citizens and the undervaluing of their economic contribution to society.

Unequal pay contributes to the gender pay gap and sends a negative message to employees about their employer’s values – which has a negative impact on motivation and productivity.
 
This is an issue that is almost impossible for individual women to correct. This is why Leigh Day began taking on equal pay claims against supermarkets as we believe that it is important for women to show solidarity in order to put pressure on organisations to review their policies and practices to ensure equal pay is a reality for all. 
 
This is not just a woman’s problem; it is an important social issue that needs to be tackled now. Paying women less for work that is of equal value reduces their ability to provide for themselves and their families and fully participate in the workplace. It is unjust and economically inefficient. 
 
In the coming year Leigh Day will forge ahead and continue to fight for equal pay for the 42,000 clients who work for supermarkets across the UK.

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