This week 23 male workers at the University of Wales Trinity St David succeeded in obtaining compensation for equal pay. It is believed that this is one of the largest groups of men ever to bring an equal pay claim.
The men are employed as caretakers and tradesmen at the University and brought the claim on the basis that they were paid less than women on the same pay grade such as secretaries and office workers.
The University had sought to renegotiate the men’s contracts from a 45 hour week down to a 37 hour week, and in order to get the men to agree to this, the University had promised that they would be guaranteed 8 hours of overtime. However, it was only once the new contracts came into effect that it became clear that the men’s hourly rate was less than women on the same pay grade.
The men therefore brought an equal pay claim. In simple terms, the way that equal pay works is to imply an equality clause into every employee’s contract of employment, which changes any term that is less favourable than the comparator’s so that it is not less favourable, and any beneficial term which is in the comparator’s contract is also included in the claimant’s contract. The claimant and the comparator must be of different genders.
There are 3 types of equal pay claim:
1) like work;
2) work rated as equivalent; and
3) work of equal value
as compared with the chosen comparator(s).
In this case, the men sought to argue that their work was of equal value to that of their comparators, i.e. the women in the same pay grade. Equal value claims involve the Employment Tribunal or court considering whether the jobs are equal “in terms of the demands made by reference to such factors as effort, skill and decision-making.”
However, there is a defence, in that the equality clause does not apply if the employer shows that the difference in terms between the claimant and the comparator is due to a material factor which is not discriminatory on the grounds of gender. This will always depend on the individual facts, but can include factors such as length of service, market forces, location and pay protection. Here, the University initially sought to argue that the difference was due to historical contractual issues. However, they subsequently confirmed that the claims were well founded, and the parties are expected to now reach a settlement.
Although the media reporting has suggested that these were sex discrimination claims, that is incorrect – they were claims under the equal pay provisions, which are different. Equal pay claims deal with contractual terms such as pay, pay progression, pension, sick pay, holiday entitlement, performance related pay and contractual bonuses, whereas sex discrimination claims deal with matters such as offers of employment, promotions or transfers, other benefits, dismissal and detriment.
With equal pay claims the arrears can go back up to six years before the claim, and in this case the men are expected to share a payout of £500,000. Other groups of male employees at the University have also indicated that they may also claim on a similar basis.
While in legal terms this case does not establish anything new, it is an important reminder that equal pay claims are not only for women. Employers should always be aware of the risks of these issues – equal pay claims are some of the most complex and time-consuming employment claims, and it is possible that the media attention this case has attracted may open the floodgates to other similar cases.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).