50 years ago today the Equal Pay Act was set into law

On this day, 50 years ago, the Equal Pay Act 1970 gained Royal Ascent and became law.

Years and years of hard fought campaigning eventually meant this act went before parliament and passed making it illegal to pay women less than men.  It actually took another half a decade until its commencement.

The act was spearheaded by Barbara Castle, MP after a strike by women in a Dagenham factory.  Ford had set up a factory here in the 1930s.  On 7th June 1968, the decision was taken to class skilled sewing machinists as ‘unskilled’ labour and categorise them as class B workers whilst men doing a similar job was classed as C workers which was skilled labour.  They were also told they would receive 15% less than men on top of this in the B category.  Barbara Castle MP was the Secretary of State for employment and was brought in to negotiate a settlement.  After the entire factory coming to a halt, amendments were made to bring women’s pay nearly to that of men.  It took years before it did so.  It took even more time for the idea of equal pay for equal value to take hold though.  The story of the sewing machinists is told in Made in Dagenham film.  If you have never watched it, I strongly encourage you to.  It is currently available to stream on BBC iPlayer or Netflix.

I remember vividly watching Made in Dagenham for the first time I think soon after it was released back in 2010.  I have watched it again and seen the musical theatre production.  It’s such a wonderful story of campaigning and getting results.  I have always regarded men and women as equal and the that fact that there was open discrimination only a couple of decades before I was born amazes me.  I think I think this way because I know how hard my Mum used to work.  She was incredibly industrious and balanced life at home, whilst we were growing up, with working full-time.  The idea that she could have been paid less despite her hard and skilful work simply owing to her gender baffles me.

Despite the law turning 50 years old today, pay is not not equal.  This disparity is on two counts.  Legally, owing to this act and its successors, paying women differently to men is illegal.  However it does not occur.  There have been some high profile cases in the BBC.  With the requirement to publicly publish wages of their staff, an employment tribunal claim was made and successfully won by Samira Ahmed.  She claimed that despite having a similar television career to Jeremy Vine was paid significantly more.  She won the tribunal and settled with the BBC.  On average every year in the UK there are 29,000 equal pay claims made.

The Fawcett Society run a campaign with the aim to push for women to find out what the male counterparts who are doing the same job are getting paid.  Talking about one’s salary or wage, especially in this country is almost a taboo.  This secrecy allows the gap to fester and widen.  The vast majority of cases go undetected therefore.

The second count is on the gender pay gap.  As mentioned above, the BBC, being a public institution had to release what it pays and it highlighted a gender pay gap.  As well as a direct case of pay being not equal it shows the wider happenings in effect here.  The reasons to explain the gap are wide and diverse and include undervaluing of work, the fact that women take longer off work for maternity leave, work different hours and sometimes fewer if raising children,subsequent opportunities of work and men more likely being on executive boards.   The BBC’s gender pay gap figure is less than the national average.  Women are more likely to be on low paid, on insecure contracts or zero-hours ones and all in all are then at most risk during the Coronavirus crisis.  The crisis is more likely to see these workers laid off and women taking on ‘domestic responsibilities’ further widening the gap.  The provision and extension of free childcare is one of the measures that could be rolled out to enable women to return to work.  Adjustment to paternity care is another example.  The equality of paternity to maternity time would no longer deem women as a liability in a businesses future – creating a paternity leave. 

The government have now made it a legal requirement for businesses with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gap data.

Knowledge is power.

Join a trade union.

Speak soon,


50 years ago today the Equal Pay Act was set into law
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