Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education indicates that, during lockdown, for every one hour of uninterrupted paid work done by a mother, men have done three. Mothers were also 23% more likely than fathers to have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs during the crisis, 47% were more likely to have permanently lost their job or have had to quit and 14% were more likely to have been furloughed.

Amid this, broader concerns are arising that economic equality and opportunity for women in the workplace will take a significant and lasting hit as a result of the pandemic.

Against that backdrop, ACAS has recently published new guidance on the Equal Pay Act to mark fifty years since it was passed into law. Originally coming in to force on 29 May 1970, the Equal Pay Act sought to end discrimination between men and women with regard to pay, as well as other terms and conditions of employment. It applies to employees, workers, apprentices, agency workers, those on full/part-time contracts, temporary contracts and those who are self-employed but hired personally to do the work.

Under the Equal Pay Act, men and women must receive equal pay for ‘equal work’. ACAS takes the opportunity to summarise the broad principles, confirming that the following constitute equal work:

  • ‘Like work’ – work where the job/skills are the same or similar.
  • ‘Work rated as equivalent’ – work rated as equivalent following a fair job evaluation
  • ‘Work of equal value’ – work that is not the same or similar but is of equal value.

While these concepts are easy to state, the meaning of ‘equal work’ has been the subject of extensive case law and is often hotly contested. Equal pay claims have become notoriously complex and can take many years to work their way through the Tribunal system. The introduction of the Equal Pay Act provided women with an important legal mechanism but, with a gender pay gap that stubbornly persists and new concerns arising from the current pandemic, one might legitimately question whether its mechanisms remain fit for purpose.