Blog: Equal Pay claims – is the public sector ready?

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business peopleThe number of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals is up 72% on the same quarter last year, according to the latest released statistics.  That’s sobering reading, even though I’ve been predicting it for some time.  All the more reason for every public sector body to ensure their house is in order as we head towards 2017.

Although for the last year we’ve known that private and voluntary sector employers with 250+ employees would need to calculate and publish their gender pay gap figures from April 2017, we had been told that the public sector in England would be spared for now. (In Scotland, public bodies with 150+ employees already have to publish their pay gaps, and there is discussion on the threshold reducing to just 20 employees.)

Change of plan

However, in mid-August, when most of you were deservedly on a beach somewhere, the Menzies Law employment law news radar (which never sleeps, nor indeed goes on holiday) picked up the issuing of a second consultation paper by the Government Equalities Office on mandatory gender pay gap reporting.  There had been a change of plan.  Now all English public bodies would be included in the mandatory publication requirement after all.  Moreover, they would not be allowed any additional time to prepare – they would have to publish according to the same rules and timescale as the private and voluntary sector, starting in April 2017.

Education sector

ONS figures tell us that the average gender pay gap in the education sector in the UK is a whopping 25%.  That’s 6% higher than the national average across all sectors (19%) and actually makes education one of the worst sectors in the country for pay inequality.  It will be fascinating to look at data coming out next year, as it is researched and crunched by the media and academics off the back of each employer’s reported data, to find out which parts of the education sector are the worst.  I have a hunch that Russell Group and Oxbridge universities are likely to contribute fairly heftily to that 25%, while the newest universities and the FE sector are likely to be the good guys, probably coming in at under 10% on the whole.  Watch this space.

Colleges

We work with a lot of colleges, and the key points we’re raising with them are the need to get your gender pay gap known as early as you can, so that you can start to work out both a plan and what your communication strategy is going to be.

In my speech to the Association of College’s annual Employment Law Conference in London last week, I emphasised that having a gender pay gap of perhaps 10% or thereabouts certainly is a lot better than the education sector as a whole, and most definitely in a different league to the financial services sector (35%), but it will not let you off the hook or prevent a potential run of equal pay claims.

The unions, led by the UCU, are making equal pay a major plank of their campaigning at the moment, and it will be difficult to find a place to hide.  We can expect more and more scrutiny and transparency on who gets paid what, and so every college leadership team and governing body need to ensure their college is getting to grips firmly with understanding what their gender pay gap is and working out where the equal pay legal risk areas may be, in order to close them.

Our specialist Pay & Reward team is working hard with our college clients at the moment on conducting equal pay audits and risk assessments, and if you’re a college but not yet signed up with us for this work, do please get in touch: I’d be very pleased to tell you more about what we’re doing to help in light of this significant legal development.

Do also take a look at our recent white paper on the issue.

Luke Menzies

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