Sex discrimination and equal pay - how are they being tackled in the public sector?

From April 2016 to March 2017 Employment Tribunals across the UK received 8,836 sex discrimination claims (10% of all claims) and 10,467 equal pay claims (11.8% of all claims). In 1997, on average women earned 27.5% less than men. In 2016 the gap had reduced to 9.5%. This is called the Gender Pay Gap. This demonstrates that gender inequality and sex discrimination are still prevalent in the workplace.  

The Queen's Speech this year promised that the Government "will make further progress to tackle the Gender Pay Gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender or sexual orientation".

What has the Government done so far?

The Government introduced mandatory Gender Pay Gap Reporting in an effort to tackle the Gender Pay Gap. The Regulations require employers to publish information regarding pay for different genders within their workforce. The Government estimate that the Regulations will affect almost 8,000 employers with around 11 million employees.

This mandatory reporting obligation includes public sector employers and it should be noted that the requirements differ for public and private sector employers. The regulations for the public sector came into force on 31 March 2017.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting - What does this mean for local authorities?

The Regulations apply to local authorities which:

1. have 250 or more employees on the snapshot date.

The definition of 'employee' is broad, and includes workers, part-time workers, consultants who personally perform work, and any overseas workers who would have the right to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

The snapshot date for the public sector is 31 March. (The date differs for the private sector, where it is 5 April.)

2. are specified English authorities, specified cross-border authorities and specified non-devolved authorities operating across England, Scotland and Wales.

Any English, Scottish or Welsh public sector employer that is not listed in Schedule 19 Equality Act 2010 still needs to follow the private and voluntary sector regulations.

Public sector employers are required to publish their Gender Pay Gap information by 30 March 2018, and every year thereafter, and their information demonstrating that they have complied with the public sector equality duty by 30 March 2018, and every four years thereafter.

The data that employers are required to publish is:

  • The mean and median Gender Pay Gap
  • The mean and median bonus Gender Pay Gap
  • The proportion of males and females receiving a bonus payment
  • The proportion of males and females in each quartile pay band

In relation to enforcement, there are no punishment provisions within the Regulations, however the Government argues that the ECHR have powers to punish "unlawful acts" under the EA 2006. The Government has also indicated that it will run checks to assess for compliance, produce tables of the reported data and identify employers providing particularly full and explanatory information.

Looking forward - what changes can we expect to see?

The Government has promised to further tackle the Gender Pay Gap and discrimination in the workplace. While we have not seen any evidence of plans to achieve this on the legislative agenda, it is possible that some of the key employment legislation may soon see an overhaul.

The Taylor Review is an independent review of employment practices in the modern economy commissioned by the Prime Minster on 1 October 2016. It was published on 11 July 2017 and has made a number of recommendations. While none of the recommendations target the issue of the Gender Pay Gap or discrimination directly, it awaits to be seen what changes may be introduced as part of any broader plans for reform.

The consequences of not-complying with the Gender Pay Gap reporting requirements are noticeably weak. Perhaps therefore, this is an area where the Government may add some finishing touches to increase the impact of the current requirements in force.  

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