Cut in pay gap

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap narrowed between 2004 and 2005 to its lowest value since records began. However, given that the Equal Pay Act was introduced thirty years ago, it is hardly cause for celebration.

Today women receive 83 pence for every £1 that a man earns. In 1975, the figure was 70 pence for every £1. That means that women now earn an average of £9.82 an hour with men earning £11.31 an hour.

The largest difference was in the East Midlands and South East, where women's pay was 15.8 per cent less than men's. The smallest gap was in Northern Ireland, at 4.2 per cent.


Proper Hours Day

The TUC's "Work Your Proper Hours Day" takes place on Friday 24 February. This is when the TUC estimates that people who do unpaid overtime will stop working for free in 2006 and start to get paid.

The TUC is urging people who do unpaid overtime to take a proper lunch that day, and to arrive and leave work on time.

This should remind Britain's employers just how much they depend on the goodwill and voluntary extra work of their staff. Indeed the TUC is urging Britain's bosses to take their staff out for lunch, coffee or cocktails on "Work Your Proper Hours Day" to say thank you for their hard work and commitment.

The TUC has used the official Labour Force Survey, which measures unpaid overtime, to work out when "Work Your Proper Hours Day" will fall.


Be flexible

Almost one in ten employees in the UK would like to work fewer hours, even if it meant taking home less money each month, according to a study published by the TUC.

The report, "Challenging times", revealed that over three-quarters of UK employees have no element of flexibility in their employment contracts. However, more than half a million workers who asked for a shorter working week had their requests turned down.

The report also says that union members are nearly twice as likely to work flexibly, compared to employees from non-unionised workplaces.

And although there are now 150,000 more people (many of whom are men) working flexitime, the total is still only a little over one in ten of all UK employees.


What women really want

Minister for Women Tessa Jowell has launched a nationwide debate to find out what matters most to women.

Over the next five months, at a series of events called Today's Woman - Your Say in the Future, women will be asked what they think about the challenges facing the country and what they want from Government policy.

The first event was held in Birmingham at the end of November. Future debates are being held in Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield and Newcastle with a final event in London in April.


Protection for gays and lesbians

Hotels, pubs and restaurants will soon be banned from discriminating against lesbian, gay and bisexual people, according to the Government.

Amendments to the Equality Bill will enable regulations to be made to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

This builds on the legislation introduced in December 2003, outlawing discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people at work. The Government also introduced civil partnerships in December 2005.

The Equality Bill would also:

  • establish the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights
  • make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of goods and services
  • create a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women (the gender duty).

The Government has said that it will consult on the scope of the regulations.


Time extension

It is unusual for the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) to extend the time for lodging an appeal, but then so were the circumstances in Dodd v Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

In this case, a firm of solicitors moved offices around the time that the London (Central) tribunal moved from one part of London to another. Predictably, the tribunal's decision was lost and did not turn up until the very last day for lodging an appeal.
Things then took a further turn for the worse because the solicitor dealing with the case was on holiday, and by the time someone else took instructions, the notice of appeal was two weeks' late in getting to the tribunal.

The EAT, however, decided that it could exercise its discretion in these circumstances and allowed the appeal to be lodged.

The moral of the story is clear - if a tribunal decision does not turn up, chase it. The best approach is to put your query in writing so that the EAT has a written record of your efforts to track the decision down.


Compensating dismissal

When an employee is subjected to a "detriment" (or disadvantage) and claims constructive dismissal, the Court of Appeal has said that compensation should be assessed right up until the date of dismissal.

This decision - in Melia v Magna Kansei Ltd - overturns the decision of the appeal tribunal (LELR 100) which said that the cut off point should be the point at which the employer's conduct amounts to a breach of contract.

The court said that it could not have been the intention of Parliament to bring about a situation whereby an employee would lose entitlement to their compensation simply because they delayed resigning.


New CRE code

At the end of 2005, the Commission for Racial Equality published its new statutory code of practice on racial equality in employment.

The code contains a set of recommendations and guidance on how to avoid unlawful racial discrimination and harassment in employment. It outlines employers' legal obligations under the Race Relations Act 1976, and contains general advice on the policies they should adopt.

It comes into force in April 2006 and replaces the existing statutory code which was issued in 1984. It does not have the force of law, but if an employer fails to follow the code, it may count against them.


Fixed term discrimination

According to German law, fixed term contracts are unlawful unless they can be objectively justified. However, if the employee is over 52, that requirement does not apply.

The European Court of Justice has decided in Mangold v Rudiger Helm that this contravenes the EU Equal Treatment Directive, although it does not have to be implemented until the end of 2006.

It said that, in general terms, legislation that lets employers treat people differently because of their age offends the principle of eliminating discrimination on the basis of age.

It also said that although the Framework Directive was not due to be implemented until next year, the German Government should not have introduced age-specific legislation once the Directive was introduced in 2002.


In good faith

A man who applied for a job as a security officer said on the form that he suffered from depression. His application was rejected and he made a claim that he had been discriminated against because of his disability.

The tribunal in Greig v Initial Security Ltd agreed with him. It also decided, however, that it was not convinced that he had made the application "in good faith". They awarded him £500 for injury to feelings.

Mr Greig appealed saying that he should have been awarded a minimum of £750, and in this particular instance, a figure of £2,500 would have been nearer the mark.

The EAT disagreed, saying that tribunals were not bound by a minimum award, although a practice had developed of awarding at least £500.