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matters by John Darker AMBIM
Mrs 11 Per Cent!
This is the estimated proportion of women in the road transport labour force and the industry has until the end of 1975 in which to cease pay discrimination: this could have a 'depth charge' effect on industrial relations
THE Equal Pay Act which became law in 1970 gave industry and commerce until the end of 1975 to end discrimination between men and women in their terms and conditions of employment. The vast majority of employers have not taken this legislation seriously, possibly hoping that the nation's inflationary fever would cause the present Government to defer or even repeal the law.
It is possible that the implementation of the Act will have a "depth-charge" effect on labour relations. The trade unions have paid lip service to equal pay for a century but being overwhelmingly male-dominated they have done little to promote it Many observers think that if equal pay is largely achieved by December 29 1975 male pressures to re-establish traditional differentials will boil over.
Spate of appeals
Long before the Equal Pay Act became law it was common to hear employers say that if the choice lay between employing a man or woman at the same pay then few women could be certain of a job. In a time of full employment it would hardly make sense for employers to try to replace large numbers of female staff. Quite apart from the effect on public opinion there would surely be a spate of appeals against unfair dismissal to the Industrial Tribunals.
In industry as a whole female employment accounts for some 37 per cent of all employees. In road transport the figure is substantially biker — probably around 11 per cent. In the bus industry there were some 15,000 female conductors in 1970 and around 4000 cleaners. Probably two-thirds of the 17,000 clerical workers in the industry are women, so that the total female employment on bus operations may be about 30,000.
In road haulage, some three-fifths of the 27,000 clerical workers are women and a similar proportion holds in the much smaller removals and warehousing clerical section.
Granted that the equal pay problem will bear less hardly on the nationalized sector of the transport industry, where there has been a sustained programme to equalize pay, there can be very few firms in the industry with no female employees.
A transitional period was allowed for the Act to take effect because of its effect on labour costs, pay structures, working methods and industrial relations arrangements. A booklet shortly to be published by the Department of Employment will stress that all firms employing women will need to have a new look at the Act.
Broadly similar work
The common assumption that the Act applies only to men and women doing identical work is wrong; it applies to the same or broadly similar work — or different work if it has been given equal value under a job evaluation scheme. The Act requires the removal from all agreements and pay structures of any discrimination between men and women save for specified exceptions.
It must not be assumed — despite the fact that some union officials are noticeably lukewarm about equal pay — that an employer need take no action until confronted with a union claim. Nor can an employer safely take shelter under the Government's counter-inflation policy. On the contrary, Stage 2 of the counter-inflation policy makes special provision for phased progress towards equal pay outside the general pay limit for Stage 2.
The remaining differentials between men's and women's rates may be reduced by one-third during 1973, outside the £.1 plus 4 per cent limit, provided the differential is not widened by increases within the £1 plus 4 per cent.
The DoE sensibly points out that the vast mass of companies need to think out the consequences of equal pay. This must be costed, planned and negotiated and it may involve a complete reorganization of a firm's pay structure.
A phased programme spreads the cost progressively over a period and minimizes abrupt changes in existing arrangements. It gives a company time to deal flexibly with changes in working methods, or in industrial relations arrangements. (A free booklet on introducing equal pay will soon be available from local employment offices.) How much?
How much will equal pay plans cost the average company? The Office of Manpower Economics in a report published in 1970 produced estimates ranging from nothing to 18 per cent on wage bill costs, with possible higher costs for individual companies. Although the increased wage bill would not generally exceed 5 per cent some estimates were considerably higher.
Employers are now urged by the DoE to establish the costs of changes in wage rates for women bearing in mind the age at which adult wages are paid and the effect of fringe benefits and other conditions of employment. The likelihood of women employees being affected can be classified as definite, probable or possible.
An estimate can be made of the upper and lower limits of costs and the probable costs. It will help to set down the current annual labour costs of each group affected for normal working hours.
The secondary effects of equal pay involve a major guessing game. What will be the likely cost if male workers successfully attempt to maintain differentials?
What action will female workers take if these jobs are not comparable with male workers? Will they not try to keep in step with women who are benefiting substantially from equal pay arrangements?
What will be the effect on the local employment situation? The OME found that many firms which had used job evaluation or had simple grading structures were able to introduce phased programmes for equal pay structures without much difficulty. Job evaluation helps to provide a factual basis for determining pay relativities. It establishes a pay structure which is acceptable to the employees concerned and, most important, it takes care of the effects of the Act on male and female employees not directly affected and avoids subsequent claims for relativities to be restored.
Job evaluation Of course, if job evaluation is introduced the cost of setting up the scheme must not be forgotten. If this is done purely by company executives it will cost something, and if outside consultants are brought in their fee will have to be met — and some management time will be needed for discussions with the consultants. Some employers may feel that job evaluation may add to the cost of equal pay by extending the area of comparison between men's and women's jobs.
OME concluded that this was a short-sighted view, and recommended that job evaluation, properly used, was the best way of dealing with the implications of equal pay for the employers' pay structures as a whole.
No doubt the trade associations and the RTITB will have some advice on simple methods of systematic job analysis, though a principal difficulty with job evaluation is keeping wage and salary structures in step in the particular locality. In my view, this aspect is the most difficult to quantify. Pay comparisons are potent and insidious.
Interpreting the Act
The Industrial Arbitration Board and the industrial tribunals will be responsible for interpreting the Equal Pay Act but the rulings of these bodies will not be available before 1975, when the Act operates — no consolation to employers who are urged to act now.
The Act gives no detailed guidance as to whether a particular job done by a woman is the same or broadly similar to another done by a man. Account should be taken of the nature, extent and frequency of any differences.
The Act calls for discrimination between men and women to be removed from collective agreements, wages orders and pay structures. This means that pay provisions applying specifically to men or women will have to be removed before the Act comes into force. And they will have to be removed whether or not the men or women concerned are doing the same or broadly similar work, or are covered by a job evaluation scheme.
Where men are employed at night on work performed by women during the day, an employer would be able to justify an additional "night premium" to men. A similar principle applies to shift or part-time • work but extra payments must not depend on the sex of the worker and they must be seen to be fair.