A history of holding back Equal Pay

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Jane Hardy’s opening article on equal pay (March SR) makes fascinating reading. The following points supplement her account.

The 1918 War Cabinet inquiry that Jane mentions includes Beatrice Webb’s devastating minority report, that still repays reading. She argued that “the popular formula of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’…is so ambiguous and so easily evaded as not to constitute any principle”.

Webb argued for occupational or standard rates, with no more reason for these to differ according to the worker’s sex than “according to their race, creed, height or weight”.

The June 1919 Versailles “peace” Treaty, where the victorious powers carved up the world, also took account of workers’ militancy. Part 13 (Labour) of the treaty contained the constitution of the soon-to-be-formed International Labour Organisation (ILO) and its “general principles”, including that “men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value”.

It was not until 1951 that this principle became the subject of ILO Convention 100 and ILO Recommendation 90. The latter suggested that member states apply this first to central and local government.

In Britain, a private members’ bill in March 1954, for “equal pay for work of equal value”, was a focal point in the campaign Jane describes. But this formulation disappeared, not to be achieved until the 1983 regulations (bringing the UK in line with a 1975 European directive).

Instead, the Tory government conceded a scheme to bring “equal pay for equal work” for non-industrial female civil servants, through seven equal annual instalments, from 1955 to 1961. Similar agreements were made for white-collar women in local government, the NHS, and nationalised industries, and for teachers and nurses.

This phasing of “equal pay” was to be repeated when employers were allowed five years to implement the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

Dave Lyddon
Keele