Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Equal Pay

This Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in South Tyneside Council v Anderson & ors. The appeal relates to the last of a group of equal pay claims brought by female school support staff in the north-east. Each was paid at a rate determined by the grade to which she was contractually assigned, set out in a collective agreement known as the 'White Book'. Their chosen comparators were men employed by the local authority whose earnings were significantly higher. Although they were doing identically rated work, none of the men actually worked in schools.

The Newcastle Employment Tribunal held that the female claimants were in the same employment as their comparators and that the pay inequalities between them put the local authority in breach of the women's equality clauses. This decision was upheld by the EAT. The local authority’s subsequent appeal concerned only workers like Ms Irving who were employed on the recommendation of the governing body of a community school (as opposed to those employed directly by the local education authority).

On appeal, the local authority argued that the women and their comparators could not be described as being 'in the same employment' because it was open to each such governing body to decide what an individual worker's terms and conditions of employment should be. The Court rejected this argument and held, on the contrary, that workers of either sex were subject to 'common terms and conditions of employment' for the purposes of the Equal Pay Act section 1(6). Whatever their place of work, they were employed by the same employer and paid by reference to a collective agreement (the White Book) to which any governing body would invariably be required to refer. Ms Irving and her male comparator "were therefore to be treated as in the same employment. From this, coupled with the inequality of pay, a breach of the implied equality clause ineluctably followed".

[Thanks to John Bowers QC, counsel for Tyneside, for telling me about this decision and to for allowing me to adopt their summary.]

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