Jobs are of equal value or of comparable worth if they impose equivalent demands on jobholders, despite being dissimilar in content. Under European law, women and men have an entitlement to equal pay if their job is of equal value to that of a member of the opposite sex in the same employment. This principle, of equal pay for work of equal value, was established in law through the Equal Pay Directive of 1975, which was subsequently transposed into UK law through a 1983 amendment to the Equal Pay Act 1970. The amendment was forced upon the then Conservative government by a decision of the European Court, which ruled that the UK had failed to implement the directive. The significance of the amendment lies in the fact that it allows a woman pursuing an equal pay case to select a male comparator in a different occupation who may belong to a different grade structure derived from a separate job evaluation exercise. This is important because of continuing occupational segregation and the tendency for jobs typically undertaken by men to be better paid. Since the change there has been a series of high-profile equal pay cases which have been based on the principle of equal value. As a result of these and other cases, a number of organizations in public administration, finance, supermarket retail, and the utilities have altered grading and job evaluation procedures in order to incorporate the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Despite these changes, women continue to be paid significantly less than men on average and the law has been widely criticized for being ineffective. Among the criticisms are that the complexity of the law and the special Employment Tribunal procedure which comes into play in equal value cases make it difficult for applicants to use. Many cases have dragged on for years and have been dependent on support from trade unions and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Critics have also attacked the provision for employers to defend equal value cases on the grounds that unequal pay is due to a ‘material factor’, such as market forces, which is not the factor of sex.
Subjects: Human Resource Management.