Opinion
4 May 2018 09:27am

Debate: is unequal pay a form of discrimination?

We asked a number of experts, professors, business groups and firms if unequal pay can ever be deemed “fair”, or if it will always be a form of discrimination

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Caption: Can unequal pay can ever be deemed “fair"?

Karen Carter Peterson

During a Senate vote for equal pay legislation, which was rejected

“I’m embarrassed to be a citizen of the state of Louisiana. I might still be a slave, like my ancestors, if we waited on good intentions.”

Venkat Venkatasubramanian

Professor at Columbia University and author of How Much Inequality is Fair?

“Unequal pay does not necessarily imply unfairness. For example, John performs a job for one hour and makes $100. Lilly performs the same job, executing the same level of work quality as John, but works for two hours and makes $200. Is there inequality in their pay? Of course, there is. But is the inequality fair? Of course, it is. Lilly was paid more because she contributed more. Their incomes are not equal, but equitable.

“As different people have different talents and skills, they would make different contributions to society. Those who contribute more are compensated more. At the risk of sounding oxymoronic, what is the fairest inequality of income? This critical question is at the heart of the debate. The debate is not so much about inequality as about fairness.”

Alpesh B Patel

Author of Our Turn! The Ultimate Start-Up Guide for Female Entrepreneurs

“Equal pay for equal work is not fair to women who have been underpaid for years. Back pay is logically fair. Male overvaluation of their work led to their wage inflation!”

André Carson

Congressman of Indiana’s 7th District on Twitter on 29 January

“Today marks nine years since President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. While Lilly’s fight for fair pay was an incredible milestone for workers, there is still more to be done.”

Carole Easton OBE

Chief executive at Young Women’s Trust

“Unequal pay is always unfair and illegal. It means paying people different amounts for doing the same job. There may be justification to paying within a certain band or scale, thus paying slightly different amounts for the same job but the range needs to be limited and the criteria for being paid at different points, such as previous experience, within the band should be explicit and transparent to employees. Age, gender, or previous pay levels cannot, in my opinion, be legitimate criteria.

“Unequal pay is often confused with the gender pay gap. The pay gap shows that ‘women’s work’, such as caring, is valued less than ‘men’s work’, such as construction or banking. It shows that those on higher pay receive greater bonuses and that women are over-represented in low paid jobs. This, too, is unfair and needs to be addressed urgently by reforming and externally auditing job evaluation schemes and by addressing institutional discrimination and work practices.”

Sheila Wild

Founder of EqualPayPortal, on unequal pay policy accusations at Tesco

“Saying a pay system is ‘fair’ isn’t enough – it also needs to ensure that where women and men are doing equal work, they are treated equally. A situation where, as appears to be the case here, women are employed on one type of job and men on another, but the men are getting a higher rate of pay, is exactly the kind of thing equal value is aimed at.”

Lindsey Fish

Founder and CEO of Mums Enterprise Roadshow

“Pay is just the basis on which you reward employees for their contribution towards an organisation. Why things become a little more complex is because reward doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘pay’ in the monetary sense itself. Reward can come in the form of bonuses, increased holiday entitlement and a number of other ‘nice to have’ perks.

“When people accept unequal pay in favour of flexibility, this is completely unfair and unacceptable. We are working extremely hard to drive change and show the world that flexible working opportunities are not a special request, they are a basic fact of life and in time, the 9-5 work ethos will be replaced with a far more effective and sustainable style of working that will allow people to balance work and family life more effectively.”

Melanie Field

Equality and Human Rights Commission executive director

“We need to radically change our workplace culture by advertising jobs as flexible from day one. We need to address the biases that are rife in our workforce and society.”

Alison Marshall

Women’s Equality Party national spokesperson on equal pay

“Deep-rooted inequalities reflected by the gender pay gap and cases of outright discrimination have both been presented as vestiges of previous mistakes rather than features of the current system. For many people discrimination is a live issue, and on the current trajectory it will be decades before women have the same pay and employment opportunities as men.

“The Equality Act 2010 mandates equal pay for equal work, so in the (hypothetical) scenario that anti-discrimination laws are being properly followed and enforced, why is this still an issue?

“Many drivers of pay inequality rest outside the bounds of legislation. Some employers argue market forces mean they need to offer particular candidates more than their current salary. This duplicates existing inequalities; to tackle it, some states and cities in the US are banning interview questions about current or previous salary. Other employers say experience, or other vaguely-defined factors that specific candidates would bring, mean they should be offered more. This needs to be treated with scepticism.”

Ed Stacey

Head of legal services at PwC

“Unequal pay doesn’t always mean unfair pay. The fact that Person A is paid more than Person B may in many instances be much fairer than them both being paid the same. Some reasons for this would include situations where one may have much more experience and add more value from that experience.

“One may have been a stronger performer and, in the absence of any bonus arrangements, the employer pays that person more to help reward and retain.

“Crucially, none of these reasons are discriminatory ones as none provide for different treatment because of a protected characteristic such as gender, race or sexual orientation.”

Phil Murphy

Governor of Newark, New Jersey, on Twitter

“For too long, an untenable two-tiered wage scale unfairly penalised workers at Newark Airport. Today, we are standing with thousands of men and women in their fight for fairness and pay equity.”

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