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The Equal Pay Act 50 Years On: How Labour Governments have dealt with equal pay

BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group

The Equal Pay Act 50 Years On: How Labour Governments have dealt with equal pay

 

17.00-18.45 Thursday 9th December (through Zoom)

 

The Equal Pay Act (1970) has been with us for fifty years, though it has now been largely superseded by the Equality Act (2010). In this seminar, we analyse its origins and impact industrial relations under the 1974-79 Labour Governments. We then move on to investigate how the New Labour Governments attempted to deal with the persistent gender pay gaps from 1997 onwards, and draw lessons for the present day.

 

For further details and to reserve a place, please e-mail Michael Gold (m.gold@rhul.ac.uk) or Linda Clarke (clarkel@wmin.ac.uk). We’ll send Zoom link a few days before the seminar.
 
Programme:
17.00-17.15: Welcome and introduction: Michael Gold and Linda Clarke (Chairs)

17.15 – 17.45: Frances Galt (UWE)

Women’s Industrial Militancy and the Equal Pay Act 1970

During the 1970s, there was an intensification of women-led industrial disputes, particularly in the five-year implementation period following the passing of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1970. Through strikes, workplace occupations and demonstrations, women workers demanded equal pay, improved working conditions and union recognition, and resisted redundancy, factory closure and productivity agreements. Between 1972 and 1979 roughly 43 per cent of women-led industrial disputes were for equal pay. The shortcomings of the EPA also galvanised campaigns against workplace gender discrimination, with women union activists extending their demands beyond equal pay to address access to education and training, childcare facilities, and maternity leave. Drawing on the conclusions of my monograph on women’s union activism in the British film and television industries and preliminary findings from my research on equal pay strikes for the AHRC-funded Gender Equalities at Work project, this paper will explore trade union responses to the EPA.

 

17.45 – 18.15: Susan Milner (University of Bath)

Labour market policy regulation and industrial relations in the (New) Labour years: the problem of the gender pay gap

In 2001, the manifesto for Labour's second term included a commitment to address the gender pay gap. The Women and Work Commission was established in 2004 to investigate causes of the gender pay gap and make recommendations, following the Warwick agreement which reflected frustration among trade unions and arguably the breakdown of voluntary pluralism which had characterised Labour's first term. Equal pay was a long-standing trade union demand and had also been adopted as Labour policy. However, although the gender pay gap narrowed slightly after 1997 it still stood at 19.2% by the end of Labour's term of office, and few policy interventions directly addressed it. This paper critically assesses how far Labour's dominant mode of employment policy regulation addressed the gender pay gap, and why. It revisits the 'classic' areas of voluntary pluralism in the early Labour period (national minimum wage, union recognition, and flexible working) and shows that policy on the gender pay gap suffered from uneven attention, as well as leaders' perceptions of cost and difficulty. 

 

18.15 – 18.45: Discussion

*****

Our speakers:

Dr Frances Galt (Research Fellow, UWE Bristol) is author of Women’s Activism Behind the Screens: Trade Unions and Gender Inequality in the British Film and Television Industries (BUP 2020). She currently researches the introduction and implementation of the Equal Pay Act 1970 for the AHRC-funded project Gender Equalities at Work.

 

Professor Susan Milner (Department of Politics, Languages and International Relations, and Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath) currently holds a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to research policy on women and employment in the New Labour years. She also leads a GW4 research group on gender pay equality.

16th November 2021