Law guide: Employment

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Equal pay

Equal pay

Equal pay

Equal pay for equal work is a requirement of EC law and finds its origin in the Treaty of Rome. Equality of payment is also incorporated in the Equal Pay (Northern Ireland) 1970 (EPA 1970). Although reference is made to women, it applies equally for the benefit of men.

A woman is entitled to be treated no less favourably than a man in the same employment, where she is employed on 'like work' with a man. The position is the same where the work is rated as equivalent, or the work is of equal value to that of the man in the same employment.

The work does not have to be identical but must be broadly similar, taking into account duties, responsibility and hours. If there are differences, the tribunal should consider whether these are of practicable importance or not. For example, the tribunal may consider the level of experience and skill, physical effort, responsibility, seniority and qualifications as practicable importance.

A job evaluation scheme takes into account the demands on the employee in terms of, for example, effort, skill and decision-making. Once it has been carried out, the tribunal is bound by it, provided it is not discriminatory.

A woman must show that she has reasonable grounds that the work is of equal value. The employer must then put forward their defence. If the defence fails, the tribunal will then commission a report from an independent expert who will evaluate the job, and the tribunal will make a decision based on this evidence.

What is 'like work'?

The term 'like work' means work which is the same or broadly similar. Jobs which are the same or broadly similar should have the same pay, irrespective of whether they are done by a man or by a woman. The breadth of 'like work' means that any differences must be of practical importance. Apparently dissimilar jobs can be seen as like work, e.g. lecturers of different subjects within the same employment. Pay means not just basic pay but also access to overtime, holidays, a company car and all other components of the pay package. Workers on piece rate can often be compared to each other under the category of 'like work'.

How do you find out if there is a problem?

As well as looking at differences between men and women in the same grade, remember to think about other aspects of equality such as race, disability and age.

You can find out if there is a problem in your organisation by looking at the amount you pay to individuals doing the same or similar jobs, to men and women, people from different ethnic groups and those with a disability compared to those without, over the past year. If your records show that there is a tendency for people from one group to be favoured over another, then you need to find out why this is happening.

Here are some examples of how organisations can become vulnerable to like work claims:

  • Companies have merged but pay rates have not been properly harmonised
  • Jobs have changed over time but because no job evaluation has taken place, the similarities between jobs has not been recognised
  • Two similar jobs were originally paid the same, because they were considered to be 'like work', but one of the jobs is now done by a part-time worker who does not have access to the same total pay package as her full time colleague.

You can get more information from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), which offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the LRA helpline. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland can help with advice regarding discrimination and equal opportunities.

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