What is Equal Pay Bill's purpose?
How would right to know work?

The Fawcett Society is backing a private member's bill which aims to tackle unequal pay between men and women by introducing a new 'right to know' what male comparators are paid.

What is Equal Pay Bill's purpose?

The Equal Pay Bill has been sponsored by Baroness Margaret Prosser in the House of Lords against a background of ongoing concerns about unequal pay between men and women. The aim is to provide women who are not being paid equally to male comparators a route to get the information that they need. According to Prosser, "this new bill is vital for stopping pay discrimination – so that we are not still talking about this in another 50 years. Current rights just don't work without transparency".

Recent research by the Fawcett Society on equal pay has found that:

  • 40% of people do not know that women have a right to equal pay for work of equal value;
  • only 36% of people know that women have a legal right to ask male colleagues about their salary if they suspect pay discrimination;
  • only 24% of people reported that salaries were discussed openly in their workplace; and
  • 52% of women would be embarrassed to ask their male colleagues how much they earn.

How would right to know work?

The new right to know would give all workers a legal right to specific pay and job information about a comparator of the opposite sex, including an explanation for any difference in terms. This would apply where the worker suspects that the other person is a 'comparator' (broadly speaking, someone doing similar work or work of equal value within the same organisation) for the purposes of equal pay law. The employer would have to provide the information within 20 working days.

The bill also proposes to:

  • extend gender pay gap reporting to companies with 100 or more employees (it currently applies to companies with 250 or more employees);
  • introduce gender pay gap reporting by ethnicity. There are already live proposals to introduce ethnicity pay reporting more generally, but these have not progressed since consultation closed in 2019 (for further details please see "Ethnicity pay reporting: why it's not that simple");
  • require employers to publish an action plan to tackle gender pay gaps;
  • require employers to tell employees about their right to equal pay from the beginning of their contract;
  • give claimants back their lost pension rights when they win a case, as well as injury to feelings compensation; and
  • ensure that UK law holds a single source, which sets pay across different organisations, accountable for pay discrimination (this concept currently comes from EU law so may be changed following Brexit).

The difficulty in knowing what colleagues are paid is certainly one of the main reasons why women do not bring equal pay claims – or even know that they may have a claim at all. There have been various other proposals to scrutinise or enhance the existing gender pay gap reporting obligations, although the current government has no plans to do so.

As this is a private member's bill, it does not have government backing and may be unlikely to become law. The bill has been introduced in the House of Lords but, even if backed there, it will still need to be passed by the House of Commons.

For further information on this topic please contact Hazel Oliver at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000) or email ([email protected]). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.