There was a sense of irony that the film Made in Dagenham, shown on BBC2 this weekend, came out on the same day as the Equality Act 2010.
People Management highlighted the struggle by Ford’s skilled female machinists to achieve pay equality with male manual workers. This campaign may have led to the Equal Pay Act (1970) and subsequent Equal Pay (Amendment Regulations) 1983 but the machinists did not achieve pay equality.
1. Gender pay gap still exists in 2013
And as research reports continue to demonstrate, there is still a gender pay gap even in 2013. The latest report was covered in Louisa Peacock’s article in the Telegraph last week, showing that women with degrees are still paid less than men with the same qualifications.
The Dagenham women initially applied for equal pay under the 1983 regulations but lost the 1984 employment tribunal case for equal pay comparison with higher graded – and paid – manual male workers. The judgment by the tribunal (Neil v Ford, 1984) held the company job evaluation scheme was not discriminatory. In November 1984 the women machinists at the Ford plants in Dagenham and Halewood again took industrial action against the continued low grading.
After six weeks’ strike, a decision in their favour by an independent job evaluation panel supported their case for pay equality. After the recommendations, the company agreed to regrade the women to the higher paid grade they originally applied for in 1968. To quote the independent panel in 1985, “12,000 men’s jobs have been upgraded over the past 17 years, while Ford’s women workers have been denied similar opportunities.”
2. Ford pay parity not achieved until 28 years later
Despite their contribution to the Equal Pay Act (1970), the machinists only achieved pay parity with male manual workers 28 years later. The act, like the subsequent equal value regulations, did not assist their struggle for pay equality, so why would the Equality Act achieve pay equality for women workers in 2010? As human resource management researchers point out, the lack of disclosure on pay means women – or men – are unable to demonstrate that the level of lower pay is discriminatory.
Theresa May, who, as well as being home secretary, is minister for women and equalities, told four of the Ford machinists in a recent meeting for Channel 4 News: “The sad thing is that 40 years on there’s still too much of a gap.” Equal pay law alone has not resolved pay inequality. It is clear that other EU societies have reduced this pay gap more rapidly than the UK while also increasing productivity levels.
3. How do we achieve genuine equal pay?
What are the reasons for the pay gaps in 2013?Heather Jackson, chief executive of The Women’s Business Forum, says: “This is not about women lacking confidence. This is about them valuing themselves less than men. They are willing to accept less pay for the same work than men; who will negotiate upwards as they believe they are worth more”.
At the current rate of progress, we will have to wait until 2040 to see equal pay. Can we really wait that long? What do employers still need to do – and what do women also have to do?