The BBC’s annual report has revealed that approximately two thirds of its biggest stars, earning more than £150,000 per annum, are male. This has led to some of the BBC’s highest profile female stars writing an open letter to the Corporation’s director-general demanding that the BBC rectify the gender gap now, rather than by 2020, as suggested by the director general.
But what legal rights do women have to be paid the same as men? Law prohibiting unequal pay was introduced in 1970 by way of the Equal Pay Act. This was replaced by the Equality Act in 2010. Both Acts implemented the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The law is not straightforward, but, in essence, anyone employed is entitled to contractual terms (not just pay) that are as favourable as those of a comparator in the same employment, of the other gender, if they are employed on equal work. Equal work means like work and work rated as equivalent or of equal value. The law achieves this by implying a “sex equality clause” into a woman’s contract of employment, replacing her less favourable terms with the equivalent more favourable terms of a man’s contract.
However, an employer has a defence if it is able to show that the difference in terms is due to a material factor which is not discriminatory. If such a factor appears to be neutral, but has a disproportionate adverse impact on women, this will need to be objectively justified by the employer.