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Equal pay is in the spotlight and construction should pay attention

Tania Goodman

Equal pay has been in the news recently, with the BBC and Google both coming under fire. The construction industry should be vigilant and take action now if need be.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the overall gender pay gap in Britain shows that, on average, women are paid 18 per cent less than men.

Within the construction industry, a recent survey has found that 41 per cent of women believe that they are earning less than their male counterparts and that much of this inequality is buried under the concrete – but not for much longer.

Organisations with 250 or more employees must now report on their gender pay gaps by no later than 4 April 2018.

Employers will have to pull together information about their employees to calculate any gender pay gaps and publish this information on their website and on a government site.

High-profile examples

For this reason, there is currently a spotlight on pay inequality, with a few high-profile recent examples.

The BBC recently disclosed the salaries of its stars such as Gary Lineker and Chris Evans, revealing that these male presenters were being paid significantly more than their female equivalents.

Elsewhere, an Employment Tribunal recently decided an equal pay case against the supermarket giant Asda. The claimants, predominantly female staff, who worked in stores claimed that their male counterparts working in distribution centres fulfilled similar roles but were paid more for their time.

While Asda is appealing against the decision, its failure to win could result in compensation being awarded to its staff in excess of £100m.

Similarly in the US, Google is currently facing a group action of its female employees accusing the tech giant of frustrating their promotions and career opportunities, having been allegedly segregated into lower-paying jobs.

The law

Traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and technology must therefore pay careful attention to issues of equal pay.

What does the law say and how can you stay on the right side of an equal pay claim?

“Those who are concerned should act now to get their house in order”

In England and Wales equal pay is governed by the Equality Act 2010. The act enshrines the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

It applies to all employees: full-time, part-time, casual or temporary contracts, regardless of length of service, and obviously regardless of gender.

Top tips

To minimise equal pay claims here are some tips to consider when reviewing existing jobs and hiring new recruits:

  • Determine whether employees of different genders are doing ’equal work’. In other words, carrying out the same work ‘in terms of the demands made’ on the female and her male comparator. These demands are measured using criteria such as: knowledge and skill; effort; physical demands; working environment; and decision-making. Employers cannot simply rely on different job titles and descriptions to try and differentiate roles if in reality the work is equal.
  • ‘Equal pay’ extends not only to basic salary but to all contractual terms and conditions of employment, such as holiday entitlement, bonuses, pay and reward schemes, pension payments and other benefits.
  • Employers should act swiftly to remedy inequality. This could mean increasing salaries and/or benefits unless it can be shown that the difference in pay is due to a material factor that is not related to gender and is not directly or indirectly discriminatory. In determining this, consideration should be given to past performance, length of service, skills shortages and geographical locations.

Women currently comprise about 10 per cent of the UK’s construction workforce and by 2020 this figure is expected to increase to 25 per cent, so the industry should take on board its obligation to provide equal pay for equal work.

Failure to do so is likely to result in an increasingly dissatisfied workforce culminating in litigation, hefty financial penalties and reputational damage.

Those who are concerned should act now to get their house in order.

Tania Goodman is a partner and head of employment and Amrit Atwal a trainee at Collyer Bristow

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