The rights of men and women to equal pay for equal work is a requirement of EU law and finds its origin in the Treaty of Rome. Equality of payment is also incorporated in the Equality Act 2010 (having incorporated the provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970). Although reference is made to women in the legislation, it applies equally for the benefit of men.
A woman is entitled to be treated no less favourably in terms of her pay than a man (a 'comparator') in the same employment, where she is employed on 'like work' with a man. The position is the same where the work is 'rated as equivalent' or the work is of equal value to that of the man in the same employment.
The Equality Act now allows a claim go be made even if no real comparator can be found. This means that a women who can provide evidence that she would have been paid more if a man was doing her job, may have a claim, even if there is no-one of the opposite sex in the business doing 'like work', work rated as equivalent or work of equal value.
The term 'like work' means work which is the same or broadly similar. The work does not have to be identical. Jobs that are the same or broadly similar should have the same pay, irrespective of whether they are done by a man or by a woman. The breadth of 'like work' means that any differences must be of practical importance. Apparently dissimilar jobs can be seen as like work, e.g. lecturers of different subjects within the same employment.
The term 'rated as equivalent' means that a job evaluation scheme taking into account the demands on the employee in terms of, for example, effort, skill and decision making, has rated the roles as being equivalent in terms of grade/value. Once a job evaluation has been carried out, the tribunal is bound by it, provided it is not discriminatory.
In the absence of a job evaluation scheme, a woman (or man) may still argue that her job and that of her comparator are of equal value. A woman must show that she has reasonable grounds that the work is of equal value. The employer must then put forward their defence to that argument. If the defence fails, the tribunal will then commission a report from an independent expert who will evaluate the job, and the tribunal will make a decision based on this evidence.
Pay means not just basic pay but also access to overtime, holidays, a company car and all other components of the pay package. Workers on piece rate can often be compared to each other under the category of 'like work'.