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Lack of knowledge is holding back equal pay for women says Acas

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Acas has found that low levels of understanding by both employers and employees is, alongside the cost, one of the key factors holding back equal pay. Evidence from Acas advisers on the ground confirmed that lack of information about equal pay legislation was second only to the financial implications as a reason for failure to take action on implementing equal pay.

Rita Donaghy, Acas Chair said:

" Less than one per cent of calls to our helpline are about equal pay and those demonstrate a lot of misunderstanding of what it involves. There needs to be more funding for a push to raise awareness of the issues. Acas has 50 specially trained people who can help companies carry out equal pay reviews but not enough organisations and employees realise how equal pay claims work - the law is about sex discrimination, not about creating a fair pay system. Often company pay schemes are not transparent and so women do not realise they are being discriminated against.

"The other main reason companies do not take action is the cost. The law at present says that where a company carries out an equal pay review and identifies any discriminatory pay levels the difference in pay must be put right immediately. For smaller companies in particular this can put an unbearable strain on the company's finances. If the law were to be changed to allow organisations to phase in equal pay over a period of time many employers may be more willing to look at equal pay issues, knowing they had time to sort out the company's finances. There would, however, need to be a clear timetable for implementation."

The findings were based on the practical experience of Acas advisers about organisational issues and were presented to the Women and Work Commission.

The gender pay gap in most sectors is at least 20 per cent.

Notes to editors

The Women and Work Commission, which is chaired by Baroness Prosser, is examining the problem of the gender pay gap and other issues affecting women's employment such as:

* how men's and women's education and skills affect which jobs they can get;

* promotion and career progression - the 'glass ceiling';

* women's experiences in the job market before and after having children; and

* the different experiences of women working full-time and part-time.

The Acas helpline receives around 800,000 calls each year

Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.