Equal Pay Act: time for a major overhaul

Pay packet pictureThere’s still a huge need for equal pay legislation – and legislation with real teeth – in order to deal with discrimination in pay rates for men and women doing equivalent or the same jobs.

However, the Equal Pay Act doesn’t seem to be up to the job.

The question of the Act is very much back in the news after the Equality and Human Rights Commission called on Monday for it to be scrapped and replaced with more appropriate legislation.

My own views are along similar lines – the current law simply isn’t working as it should to protect people from discrimination. The Equal Pay Act itself is based on the outdated view that discrimination is a rare occurrence perpetrated by individual ‘bad’ employers but fails to recognise the wide-scale structural discrimination that exists.

Part of the answer to this is for class actions to be seriously considered by the Government as a way of reducing the burden on victims and the tribunals – i.e. have legal actions which cover many employees in one go, rather than having to have separate legal cases for each person.

This individual system is the current approach – and it means the whole system is bogged down in massive numbers of cases. The result – it’s taking far too long for people’s cases to get through the system, and the longer a case takes, the longer justice is denied.

In addition, Ministers should also consider compulsory equal pay audits across the board to bring discrimination to light. These could be followed by a ‘protected period’ for employers to put their house in order before a lengthy tribunal process becomes necessary. In other words – highlight the problem, give people a chance to put their house quickly in order – and then if they fail, take legal action. Again, the idea is speed up the system and rescue people from intolerable delays until the system gets round to dealing with their case.

The Guardian picked up on my views – you can read their piece here and you can see my press release here.