The UK Government is to make it easier for women to go to an employment tribunal over equal pay. Proposals aimed at reducing the 18% gender pay gap by streamlining tribunal procedures are included in a new consultation paper.
Employment minister Tessa Jowell said equal pay cases were among the most complex in the system, sometimes taking years to resolve.
She described the situation as unsatisfactory to both employers and claimants. But business leaders this week gave a mixed reaction to the proposals which come less than a month after the government moved to reduce the number of time-wasting claims.
Jowell, however, said changes to the system for dealing with equal pay claims were essential if real progress was to be made in reducing inequality at work.
She said: ‘The gender gap has halved from 37% when the Equal Pay Act was brought in 30 years ago, but it is still too high. Even without any breaks for children, a mid-skilled woman will still earn £240,000 less than a man over her working life.’
Proposed changes include shortening employment tribunal rules for equal pay cases and use of an assessor to provide panels with expert advice. Procedures where a group of women essentially have the same case would also be simplified, while questionnaires would allow women to obtain key information from employers when deciding whether to bring a case.
The two-year time limit on back pay that can be awarded to claimants would also be extended to six years. In addition, the right of a panel to throw out a case they consider to have no reasonable grounds will be ended.
John Cridland, deputy-director general of the CBI, said the abolition of this right would concern business: ‘This is a move in the opposite direction to recent tribunal reforms, which aim to free employers from defending no-hope cases,’ he said.
But Stephen Alambritis, head of parliamentary affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed the proposals.
‘Equal pay claims can and should be resolved as speedily as possible. Delays only drag out any unfairness at play,’ he said.
The proposals in the consultation paper, Towards Equal Pay for Women, were drawn up following discussions with the Equal Opportunities Commission, leading lawyers and other experts in the field.
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