The objective of equal pay for men and women has been gathering momentum in the sphere of industrial relations (IR) now for several decades especially since the enactment of the Equal Pay Act 1970 (enforced in 1975). However, it has now become apparent that legislation concerning inequalities in the workplace alone is not sufficient to diminish the gender pay gap. Therefore, in order to understand why gender inequalities persist, IR scholars have devoted their academic research to looking at this issue in a multi-disciplinary, multi-level and multi-actor approach (Dean and Liff, 2010).
In this essay I aim to first look at the law brought about by the state governing equal pay (including recently enacted legislation) and why this came about. Secondly, I will look at the progress made and the persisting barriers present on the road to equal pay using up-to-date labour statistics. I will then go on to critically assess the way in which the three main actors: employers, trade unions and the State interact in order to establish equal pay for men and women in the UK. Within this assessment I hope to determine the most likely future direction for gender pay equality and conclude by discussing opportunities and threats for post 2010. Due to the confines of the word limit and the title of the essay I will not go into an analysis of racial discrimination despite its persistence.
Various interrelated factors have helped shape the legislative agenda over the last 30 years, creating a broader scope and thus greater inclusiveness (Dickens, 2007). Equality legislation has seen a notable shift away from ‘anti-discrimination’ towards positively promoting equality with the help of the main actors: employers, trade unions and the State in a more proactive and voluntaristic approach (Cockburn, 1989). I have tried to pick out the main legal developments over this period, however the law in this area is too vast to go into very specific detail.
The Equal Pay Act 1970 was enacted in the aftermath of the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike (TUC, 2006) which saw the plant’s female workers walk out in protest against sexual discrimination and the desire for equal pay. Section 1 of the Act sets the pace for the rest of the statute, however, it can be seen that the act is restricted to the field of employment and deals specifically with discrimination relating to terms and conditions of employment (equality issues that an employer must abide by, including pay), for a wider understanding of sex discrimination law, one must look at the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Legislation in this area is continually amended in order to comply with relevant European Community legislation (EC), in particular the provisions of the Equal Treatment Directive (Halsbury’s Laws of England, 2007; Thompsons, 2010). In addition to this, the UK saw the birth of a new institution, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) in 2009. The CEHR was formed under the Equality Act 2009 with the aim to address weaknesses in the legislative equality package and to promote gender equality (Dickens, 2007)
Given the above, law can be seen as a causal link in the relationship between the State and the employer within which one regulates the other. However, it is argued that, past discrimination legislation fails somewhat to take into consideration social as well as economic factors in the wider society, in particular, social norms related to fairness, to status differentials and to family and household roles (Rubery et al, 2003). These factors have been at the heart of the struggle faced by trade unions to regain collective bargaining power through the use of female members (Hyman, 1994). It was also argued by Dickens (2007) that the law in this area has become too complex, fragmented and inconsistent thus...