Equal pay legislation that was scrapped post-Brexit will be reinstated, the UK government has confirmed.
The protection means that women will keep the right to the same pay and terms as men for doing similar work, despite the law being axed in June following Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Ministers announced the decision after accusations from Labour that they were indirectly removing the rights of low-paid female workers.
A spokesperson for the government’s Equality Hub said: “There will be absolutely no reduction in equal pay protections. The new secondary legislation will be laid before Parliament long before the end of the year.”
In the UK, men and women in the same work carrying out equal duties must get equal pay unless a difference can be justified, but the law is not always applicable to female staff working for outsourcing firms or women hired in different locations but doing similar work to men.
The EU’s “single source test” regulation addressed this loophole, but was set to be abolished by January 2024, along with hundreds of others, under the EU Retained Law Act.
However, according to Henry Clinton-Davis, partner at law firm Arnold & Porter, it was unlikely the equal pay legislation would ever be revoked.
He said: “There is a lot of politics at play here, but there was not much doubt that equal pay laws, which have been so long entrenched, would seriously be removed – especially by a government facing an election in a year’s time.
“Despite the great fanfare when the government initially threatened to automatically revoke most EU laws retained after Brexit, in the HR space at least, very little is scheduled to change, beyond some potentially welcome tweaks to the Working Time Regulations and to TUPE.”
George Clough, employment lawyer at Payne Hicks Beach, said: “It is positive that the government is now committed to ensuring that equal pay protections will remain under UK law. Equal pay legislation offers an important protection for female employees and a mechanism by which they can challenge their employers when they are paid less than their male colleagues for ‘equal work’; that is like work, work that is rated equivalently or work of equal value.
“While these claims may be complicated to prove as they require detailed analysis and comparison of the exact nature and value of roles of individuals or groups, the fact that they have a six-month limitation period, as opposed to the usual three months for sex discrimination and most other employment claims is helpful for claimants. Moreover, the fact that awards of back pay for up to six years can be made, means that they are potentially significantly valuable claims.”
Dr Zara Nanu, CEO at tech start-up Gapsquare which champions pay equity and inclusion in the workplace and chair of the Women in Business Task Group, commented: “While today’s decision to reinstate equal pay protection legislation is a positive, progress for equal pay continues to be halted with ill-guided legislation changes and unchanged, aged, polices. This legislation is the bare minimum for protecting equal pay in the UK, and the current government’s approach feels like one step forward, two steps back in the pay equality journey.”
Nanu, who is also a member of the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice at the World Economic Forum, added: “Progress remains too slow compared to other jurisdictions which are taking equal pay to the next level. The Equal Pay Act was passed over 50 years ago and we are still debating this issue. While the legislation is still playing catch up, organisations can take a proactive approach on this. From leveraging technology to analyse gaps and root out the core problem, or moving pay analysis into a more regular activity, organisations can do a lot more to tackle gender pay gaps and go beyond what’s simply legally required.”