It’s Equal Pay Day – that cheery day in the year when women essentially start working for free until the end of December. This year, I’ve had a bit of a lightbulb moment, which is a good thing because, despite the annual gender pay gap reporting which started last year, women are still in the dark on equal pay.
Let me explain. Women have a right to equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, and have had for nearly 50 years.
A woman can point to a male comparator in her workplace, say "I should be paid what he is paid" and the law will back her up, unless there is an objective justification for him earning more. But women have no way of enforcing this right unless they take their employer to a tribunal.
No, it’s worse than that, they have no way of finding out what their male colleagues are earning unless they take their employer to a tribunal to get disclosure. Employers can simply refuse to provide the information. So the vast majority of women who suspect they are being paid less than a male colleague either cannot get hold of the data to challenge it, or stop short of going to tribunal and give up.
Yes, we have gender pay gap reporting and that is welcome. It is a useful process and large employers are increasingly being held accountable for their pay gaps. But merely declaring your average pay gap figure is not true transparency. Employers still hold all the cards. Without knowing what your male counterparts are earning, you really are powerless to challenge pay discrimination.
In a survey my charity, the Fawcett Society has published today for Equal Pay Day we asked women about male colleagues in the same or similar role. Twenty-nine per cent said they had no idea what their male colleagues were paid and a further 37 per cent said they thought the men were paid more.
Women have told us that sometimes their male colleagues have helped them by sharing pay information. Others have said “he got drunk and revealed his salary”, or “he left his payslip on the desk”.
It often relies on the good will or carelessness of a male colleague for a woman to find out if she has an equal pay claim. Is that really how far our equal pay legislation has taken us in 50 years?
So, here is my light-bulb moment: why don’t we give a female employee the Right to Know what her male counterpart earns if she suspects that he is being paid more than her? An enforceable, legal right for a woman to ask her employer about his salary, and a legal duty on the part of the employer to provide the information, or face a hefty fine. We also want to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission given the power to issue penalty notices to employers who do not comply.
For those who think this is yesterday’s problem, think again. High profile cases such as Samira Ahmed’s (versus the BBC) or Stacey Macken (versus BNP Paribas), or Sam Walker (versus the Co-op Group) as well as big group claims against Glasgow City Council, ASDA, Boots or Morrisons show that there are cases being fought and won against high street names every day.
But equal pay is about so much more than money. It goes to the heart of who and what we value. In our research, 42 per cent of women told us they felt undervalued when they found out they weren't being paid equally. Thirty-eight per cent felt angry and upset, while 65 per cent said it had a detrimental impact on how they felt about their employer. Thirty-three per cent felt less motivated and 1 in five wanted to leave their job altogether.
Women who challenge pay discrimination often lose their jobs, suffer stress and depression. It takes over their lives and the fight can last for years. But that is because we are forcing them to fight on alone in a dysfunctional, broken system.
So we want the incoming government to change in the law, to give each woman the information up front and save her having to go to tribunal. It will speed things up for her, encourage employers to settle and will be more likely to enable her to stay in her job. From senior businesswomen leading the #MeTooPay campaign to the Glasgow City Council care workers, women deserve equal pay and they want the Right to Know.
Eight in 10 people agree with us. So please support the #RighttoKnow campaign and sign the petition. Fifty years ago women won the right to equal pay. In 2020, let’s finally make it possible for them to achieve it.