The Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970 promotes the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.
The Act aims to achieve its objective by incorporating an equality clause into all contracts of employment. The effect of this is to give each employee a contractual right to receive equal pay with any employee of the opposite sex who is doing:
(a) work that is the same or broadly similar (ie 'like work'); or
(b) work which is different, but which is of equal value in terms of the demands of the jobs (ie 'work of equal value'); or
(c) work which has been rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme (ie 'work rated as equivalent').
'Pay' includes not only wages/salary but also all other contractual terms and conditions.
Therefore, even if you pay men and women the same basic pay for the same job, their pay may still be unequal if other benefits, eg a company car and private healthcare, are different for men and women.
Work may be different from that of a colleague of the opposite sex but it can be considered of equal value if it is similar or the same in terms of the demands of the job, or it has been rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme.
Read more on equal pay - the law and best practice.
Claiming for equal pay
The law provides a procedure by which an employee can take a claim for equal pay to an industrial tribunal. In the course of an equal pay claim you may be called upon to explain and justify your pay practices and arrangements.
Pay systems review is the most appropriate method of ensuring that a pay system delivers equal pay free from sex bias.
You may be able justify differences in pay as long as you can show that gender was not a factor, eg you could pay more to employees who:
- work in an area where the cost of living is higher
- you want to retain as you would find it difficult to replace them
Gender pay gap reporting
Some large employers in Great Britain, ie those who employ more than 250 employees, are obliged to publish annually a report outlining information about the pay received by their male and female employees, such as the average differences between the pay that each group receives.
Employers in Northern Ireland are not yet obliged by law to do the same in respect of their employees here. However, it is anticipated that a similar duty will be imposed on some employers here at some future, but as yet unknown, date.
The Equality Commission would encourage employers to begin preparing for this now. Further advice can be obtained by contacting the Equality Commission directly.