Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-106)


2 MARCH 2005

  Q100 Chairman: It needs to be deemed to be a class action. It is a comparatively new concept in this country. There is now, under competition law, a provision for it but it is not in labour law yet.

  Ms Dawson: It is a more common means of going forward in the United States.

  Chairman: That is because the United States is a more litigious society.

  Q101 Judy Mallaber: On the question of making equal pay audits compulsory, is there any evidence that employers take any action, let alone any helpful action, once they have done their audits?

  Ms McCulloch: None.

  Ms Dawson: Most of this has been done in the finance sector. We have not done in our sector.

  Ms McCulloch: Barclays Bank have been pretty good at carrying out equal pay audits but, once they have gathered the information, they have done absolutely nothing with it.

  Q102 Judy Mallaber: Is there any advantage in making the audits compulsory?

  Ms McCulloch: What we are saying is that we need pay audits made compulsory, with a follow-up in legislation and a remedy to address the situation once we have the information.

  Ms Dawson: One thing that would help would be equality reps with the same kinds of rights as health and safety or learning reps. If you get equal pay audits in, you need people in the workplace with some idea of what is all about and how to take it forward within the workplace. We already have things in place to start training those reps. You need these different levers to act together. The equality reps would be the means of pushing forward within the workplace, once the right was there to have the audits done.

  Q103 Judy Mallaber: The finance sector is very interesting. I saw a very good project in the United States that was trying to get women who are on welfare into the finance sector. There was a very positive promotion to see how they could be linked into finance jobs. I believe that has been tried in some parts of East London with a similar project. Would you think that if you take an initiative like that in one part of a sector like the finance sector, there is then more hope of spreading that out and saying: once they are in there, can you break down some of the barriers to them rising through the ranks?

  Ms McCulloch: I think traditionally the finance sector has been so secretive with regard to its rates of pay and people are promoted on an individual basis. If you happen to be doing particularly well, you get a higher pay rise than somebody sitting next to you who might be doing the same job. It is very much a case of whether your face fits or not. When people within the finance sector are given a wage increase, they are told they cannot talk about it or speak to their colleagues about it. There is a lot of secrecy around the finance sector and the rates of pay within it. That is why we are finding it so difficult to tackle.

  Q104 Judy Mallaber: Is that true in the big traditional banks as well as the Stock Exchange?

  Ms McCulloch: Traditionally, if you look at the bigger banks, women are coming in at lower grades and it is harder for them to progress up through the grades than it is for a male.

  Q105 Judy Mallaber: What about a more open area like the health service? Agenda for Change: as you have said, it looks at equal pay and equal value but it does not actually tackle occupational segregation. Do you think that, by virtue of having that more integrated pay structure, there is the potential for breaking down some of those job barriers into the future? If so, having been through all the effort of four years' of negotiation to get Agenda for Change in place, what steps might the union be thinking of taking to break down some of those barriers into the future to encourage that to happen?

  Ms Dawson: What you have to look at in anything like Agenda for Change is that it is not a one-off prescription. You have to keep reviewing the process. You will always find, whether it is a job evaluation scheme or whatever, that those old barriers will reassert themselves over a period of time. People find out how the system works and then it starts reasserting itself. In all these situations, there has to be constant review. I think you were asking if best practice could be spread elsewhere. I think we can only say "yes" hypothetically because we have not had the opportunity to try it. One of my big problems in a sector with a lot of small companies is trying to find any examples of small companies to use to convince other small companies that it can work. Anything that can be done to gather that kind of best practice together so that we can use it would always be helpful. In general terms, I think you are right, but we have not actually had the opportunity to try that.

  Q106 Judy Mallaber: Is there any role for government or any public institutions in precisely generating or assisting some of those good practice examples? We are looking for recommendations for action that we can make. Can you give us any guidance on that?

  Ms Dawson: Publicity is one thing that can always come from the Government. I think some of the partnership projects can be quite helpful when you are targeting certain things. Money was available for projects on bullying and harassment. Maybe there needs to be some consideration about whether it could be used in other areas of equality, like bringing flexibility into companies. Perhaps partnership projects could be encouraged there. The only way to do it on a larger scale than just the individual is to encourage a situation where the trade unions and the employers can work together to find solutions to whatever the problems of flexibility are. At the moment, there is a bit of resistance to that. We are only able to take up the issues in any concrete way when somebody comes to us with a complaint. It is reactive and not proactive. It is about trying to change that agenda round. It is like the duty to promote equality: it is trying to change it around to a proactive role instead of a reactive one.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. That is very helpful. We may want to follow up on one or two points with you. If you have any examples you feel you should have given, then please drop us a line. Examples are always useful to illustrate the points when we make our report. Thank you very much.

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