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Geography not relevant in assessing “same employment” – Equal Pay

The Supreme Court yesterday handed down its judgment in the equal pay case of North v Dumfries and Galloway Council. This case involved female school-based assistants and nursery nurses employed in schools who claim that they should be paid the same as male manual workers such as groundsmen, refuse drivers and collectors.

The point being decided was an initial procedural point about whether the women were employed in the “same employment” as the men. The Council had successfully argued that the men’s jobs didn’t exist at the schools and could not therefore be compared with the school-based roles for equal pay purposes.

The Supreme Court disagreed with this argument. One of the reasons was that the equal pay legislation could otherwise be defeated by employing men at one site and women at another. The purpose of the “same employment” test is to ensure that geography is unimportant in determining an individual’s level of pay. The school based staff therefore did not need to show that the manual workers could ever actually work at the schools; simply that, if they did, their pay would still have been higher because of the application of common terms and conditions.

This case has a wider impact for public sector employers as it means that employees can make an equal pay comparison with someone employed by the same employer at a different site provided there are common terms and conditions that apply.

It is not, however, the end of the line for the school-based women of Dumfries and Galloway as they now have to persuade a Tribunal that the work they do is of equal value to the work that the manual workers carry out. The principle of equal pay for equal work is one that few would disagree with – the process of assessing whether it is being applied is a lot more complicated!

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