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The Equal Pay Act: Its Impact on Collective Bargaining, Grading and Pay by Sue Hastings

The Equal Pay Act has sometimes seemed difficult to use, with some cases taking years to complete. However UK equal pay legislation has had dramatic effects on grading and pay over the last 30 years.

1. Eliminating Lower Women's Rates of Pay

The first effect of the Equal Pay Act 1970 was to eliminate separate lower women's rates of pay. Before 1970, it was common practice in the private sector and some parts of the public sector for there to be separate, and lower, women's rates of pay. So, for example, at the Ford Motor Company, before a new pay structure was introduced in 1967, there were four grades for production workers:

Male - Skilled

Male - Semi-Skilled

Male - Unskilled


The only significant group of female production workers at Ford were sewing machinists, who were paid less than male toilet cleaners and stores workers [1].

The Equal Pay Act introduced an 'implied equality clause' into all employees' contracts. This had the effect of eliminating separate lower women's rates of pay. All such rates had to be raised to at least the lowest male rate over a 5 year period between 1970 and 1975.

Some employers got round the legislation, for example, by raising the women's rates to the lowest male rate, even when the women's jobs were more demanding than the men's, or by creating different job titles for the women. Despite these strategies, full-time women's average earnings compared to men's rose by 5%, from 72% to 77%, over a 5 year period in the 1970s - the biggest ever increase in this ratio.

For many negotiators this was the first time they had negotiated over rates for individual jobs (as opposed to general pay increases).

2. Increasing Use of Job Evaluation

Job evaluation is a technique for comparing different jobs, in order to put them into a rank order based on the demand of the work, as the basis for grading and pay.

The Equal Value Amendment Regulations of 1983 introduced the concept of 'equal value' into the UK Equal Pay Act This was not defined, except to say that jobs should be compared 'under headings, such as effort, skill and decision'.

Such 'headings' (or 'factors') are used in job evaluation systems to analyse and compare jobs. The similarity of terminology was no coincidence. The amended Equal Pay Act said that, if the claimant and comparator jobs were already covered by a job evaluation study, the claimant would have to show that the system was flawed, if she were to be allowed to proceed with her claim.

This led to employers, particularly those with predominantly female workforces or where there were successful equal value claims, to introduce job evaluation systems. A clear pattern of industrial sectors introducing job evaluation schemes emerges:

Period Equal Pay Case(s) Sector Job Evaluation Introduced
Late 1980s BIFU[2] , LBSA[3] supported cases against Lloyds Bank Banking All major high street banks
Late 1980s USDAW[4] supported case against Sainsbury's Retail Most major retailers e.g. Sainsbury, Tesco, Co-op
Early 1990s UNISON supported cases against recently privatised electricity generation and supply companies Energy Most energy companies including British Gas, also privatised water companies
Late 1990s MSF[5] supported speech therapist cases against health authorities and the Department of Health NHS New Agenda for Change agreement in the health service based on job evaluation system
Early 2000s Union and 'no win, no fee' lawyer cases against local authorities Local Government Local authorities implement 1997 Single Status Agreement grading reviews with underpinning job evaluation

In many cases, there were other reasons for introducing job evaluation systems, but equal pay claims clearly played a significant role.

In 1982, a well-respected Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service [ACAS] officer predicted the demise of job evaluation as being outmoded due to changes in technology and work organisation. In reality, its use has increased greatly. A recent E-Reward survey [2007][6] indicates that 60% of private sector and 80% of public sector organisations now use job evaluation as the basis for grading and pay structures.

3. Harmonising Collective Bargaining Arrangements

For historical reasons most collective bargaining in the UK was on the basis of occupational groups. So, manufacturing companies might have had separate collective bargaining arrangements for:

Senior Managers

Middle Managers

Professional, Administrative and Clerical Staff

Maintenance Craft Workers

Production Workers

It soon became apparent that the 'job evaluation study' defence to equal value claims applied only where the claimant and comparator were covered by a single job evaluation scheme. The European Court of Justice, in its decision on one aspect of the speech therapists' equal value claims [1993] , said that separate collective bargaining arrangements could not of themselves provide a defence to cross-occupational group equal value claims.

Changes in technology and systems of work organisation have led to the old collective bargaining arrangements becoming outdated, but equal pay legislation has also had an impact. The result is the harmonisation of collective bargaining arrangements in many organisations, for instance:

  • banking - where there used to be a national agreement covering professional staff (the 'appointed grades') and institutional arrangements for senior managers, and for bank cashiers and clerical staff, there are now single collective bargaining arrangements covering all employees in each of the major banks.
  • health service - where there were more than 20 committees bargaining separately for different occupational groups, there are now only two - one for all non-medical employees, and one for medical and dental staffs, who chose not to take part in the NHS grading review "Agenda for Change".

4. Changing Attitudes to Women's Work

Under the equal pay regulations 'equal value' claims are usually referred by the Employment Tribunal to a member of the ACAS-administered Panel of Independent Experts, who is required to prepare a report on 'the question of equal value'.

The judgements made by the Independent Experts [IE] have contributed to changing attitudes in the UK to how women's work should be understood and valued, for example:

  • In Hayward v Cammell Laird[7], the Independent Expert found the work of Julie Hayward as a cook to be of equal value to those of higher paid shipboard craft workers. The IE treated Julie's catering qualifications as equivalent to the men's craft qualifications and said other aspects of their work were also equivalent.
  • In Wells & Others v Smales[8], the Independent Expert found the work of fishpackers to be of equal value to that of a higher paid male labourer.
  • In Enderby v Frenchay[9], Independent Experts found the work of senior speech therapists to be of equal value to that of higher paid hospital pharmacists and clinical psychologists.

5. Changing the Face of Job Evaluation

Job evaluation techniques were originally developed to reflect and replicate traditional values to women's work and collective bargaining arrangements. All that is changing:

  • Moves towards single collective bargaining arrangements mean that job evaluation schemes have to cover a much wider range of jobs - the Agenda for Change job evaluation scheme covers over 1 million employees in jobs ranging from cleaning and portering jobs through all healthcare occupations to maintenance, finance, HR and managerial roles.
  • Changing attitudes to the value of work done by women mean that job evaluation schemes have to measure the significant features of all jobs, women's as well as men's - formerly schemes tended not to measure typically female skills - eg 'dealing with people'. Schemes now commonly include headings or factors to measure manual dexterity; interpersonal skills; organisational skills; responsibilities for clients, customers, patients or members of the public; emotional demands.
  • Scrutiny of job evaluation schemes by Employment Tribunals has resulted in improvements in approach, for instance:
  • Use of job description questionnaires to ensure that all aspects of jobs done by men and women are made 'visible'
  • Better training of those involved in the process
  • More detailed recording and auditing of evaluations, so that information is available in case of query, appeal or external challenge
  • Greater transparency of process and outcomes.

Examples of traditional and recent job evaluation schemes in the local government sector:

Factors in 'Old' scheme covering local government administrative, professional, technical and clerical employees in England and Wales Factors in Local Government Services 'Single Status' Job Evaluation Scheme, England and Wales
Education Job Knowledge
Work Complexity Mental Skills
Contacts Interpersonal/Communication Skills
  Physical Skills
Decisions Initiative and Independent Action
  Physical Demands
  Mental Demands
  Emotional Demands
  Responsibility for People
Supervisory Responsibility Responsibility for Supervision (of other Employees)
Assets Responsibility for Financial Resources
  Responsibility for Physical Resources
  Working Conditions

From being a management tool aimed at reproducing the status quo, negotiators have been able to transform job evaluation into a mechanism for moving towards equal pay for work of equal value.

[1]See A Woman's Worth: the Story of the Ford Sewing Machinists

[2]Banking Insurance & Finance Union

[3]Lloyds Bank Staff Association

[4]Union of Shop Distributive & Allied Workers

[5]Manufacturing Science Finance


[7]See Cooking up a Storm: Julie Hayward's Equal Pay Victory

[8]See Hull Fish Packers film

[9]See Speaking Out for Change: Winning Equal Pay for NHS Speech and Language Therapists

Sue Hastings, Pay and Employment Advisor

Further reading:

S. Leslie, S. Hastings & J. Morris, 'Equal pay: a practical guide to the law' ch.1-3 [Law Society, 2003].

White, G. & Drucker, J., 'Reward Management: a critical text' ch.4 [Routledge,2000]. New ed. due 2007.