Voluntary approach to equal pay audits isn’t working
It’s more than 40 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed and employers in the private sector are still burying their heads in the sand when it comes to their equal pay obligations. Only 1 in 3 private sector employers have carried out an equal pay audit (this compares to 77% in the public sector), according to an Xpert HR survey published today.
There’s not much hope of future action either: of those employers who had not done an audit, 40% said they would only consider doing one if they faced a legal challenge (highly unlikely – see below) and 30% said they would not do one under any circumstances.
Employers are still extraordinarily complacent about equal pay, with the majority claiming audits are unnecessary because ‘equal pay is not a problem’ in their organisations (how do they know without doing an audit?) but, at the same time, they appear terrified of what an audit can reveal or what might happen if there was more openness about pay. The Xpert HR survey reveals most employers who do an audit are unwilling to publish their findings and more than two in five are unwilling even to share the results with the employees whose pay and conditions are covered by it. Plus, just over half of employers say they are not be happy for employees to discuss their pay or terms and conditions with each other.
Is it any wonder then that the gender pay gap in the private sector is nearly double that in the public sector?
The government has just given tribunals the power to order employers to carry out an equal pay audit if they are found guilty of pay discrimination. This is welcome, not least because it recognises that equal pay audits are the best way of uncovering and correcting unlawful gender pay gaps (also see the statutory code of practice on equal pay), but it will do little to challenge the widespread culture of pay secrecy. This is because a woman won’t know if she has an equal pay claim and be able to secure such an order unless her employer is more transparent about what she and her colleagues earn. A classic ‘Catch 22’.
The government’s own figures show that there are just 29-35 successful equal pay claims against private sector employers each year and that only a quarter of these would result in an order. That means just 2 private sector employers a year are likely to receive an equal pay order!
And just to stack the odds further against a woman seeking to enforce her right to equal pay, this government has repealed the statutory equal pay questionnaire she could use to ask her employer for information and it has introduced fees of £1,200 for her to get any claim heard at tribunal.
How much longer do we have to wait before the voluntary approach to equal pay audits is officially declared a failure and government compels employers to do them rather than placing barriers in the way of women seeking to enforce their rights?