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Reflections on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act

Last Friday 29th May, The Equality Trust joined trade unions, charities, women’s organisations and more to speak out against the scourge of pay discrimination, 50 years on from the passage of the Equal Pay Act.

In the week leading up to the 50th anniversary, DLA Piper released figures revealing that there are still an average of 29,000 equal pay complaints brought forward each year. Meanwhile, our own report found that at the current rate of progress, in the companies that report this year, it will take almost 200 years before the gender pay gap is eliminated. Our supporters got active on social media, writing letters to their local papers and contacting their MP to ask them to take action against unequal pay (with two MPs committing to take action). Our report findings were featured in articles in The Guardian and Financial Times, and hundreds of people read stories from the women involved in our 50 women, 50 years gallery project.

Conference highlights

The Equality Trust also delivered an online conference featuring a series of speakers and facilitators, each leaders in their fields of trade union organising, business, law and political activism, to discuss the drivers of pay inequality and the levers for change. Over 100 people attended and contributed to vibrant group discussions.

Some clear themes emerged from the day’s discussions: the need for transparency in pay structures (including access to comparitors’ salaries, an end to secrecy clauses and publishing more useful data on pay equality), the need for collective, individual (consumer) and legal action to affect change, and the importance of centering the voices of women living at the intersections of pay discrimination on the basis of their gender, race and disability. Participants and speakers discussed the gruelling prospect of going head-to-head with your employer, with the onus on the individual to seek out the information and take action identified as a huge obstacle to achieving equal pay.

The COVID-19 crisis was also highlighted as both posing a huge risk to setting progress back many years on gender equality, as well as an opportunity to normalise flexible working patterns that are essential to closing the gender pay gap. Some participants and speakers felt that the crisis had finally brought much needed attention to how the work of women, migrants and people of colour is valued. This includes both the unpaid care work undertaken predominantly by women within the household, as well as the consistently low levels of pay experienced by those such as nurses and care workers. The conclusion of this discussion: unequal pay is the symptom, a society that does not value the work of women is the problem.

Equal pay for ALL women

In the UK, almost all Black and minority ethnic groups continue to face significant pay gaps; for instance, UK-born Black African workers are paid 7.7% less than UK-born white British workers with similar occupation and education characteristics. We must do much more to ensure we recognise the different ways pay discrimination impacts on people of colour, and to ensure we are boldly and clearly fighting for all, not just some, women.

While many brands have recently, and rightly, put up a black square to “stand in support” of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it seems that more substantive change – like ensuring fair and equal pay particularly for women of colour – doesn’t seem to have been considered by any of these companies.

What’s next for the #EqualPay50 campaign?

While the 50th anniversary has come and gone, we want to make clear that we are in this for the long haul and this won’t be the end of the discussion. What we really gleaned from the conference is an appetite from activists, trade unionists, academics, legal partners and the third sector to join up our work and come together to campaign on the issue of unequal pay.

We will be hosting a follow-up planning meeting to discuss what can be achieved between now and November’s Equal Pay Month. If you’re interested in attending, please make sure you sign up for campaign updates to receive an invitation.

We are still encouraging all of our supporters to take action using the template letters (to write to your employer, your students’ union or your university’s Vice-Chancellor) and the trade union motions in our campaign toolkit.

Rianna Gargiulo – Campaigns Officer