International mechanisms to revalue women's work: research

The report reviews different approaches to redress the undervaluation of women’s work and assesses their applicability to the Scottish employment context. The report finds that undervaluation of women’s work is a driver of the gender pay gap and makes recommendations to alleviate this disparity.

Executive Summary

Policy context and research aims

Scottish Government has indicated its commitment to equal pay and closing the gender pay gap and has taken steps to deal with low pay and achieve fairness at work through the Fair Work Convention and allied initiatives.

While employment law is a reserved matter for the Westminster Government, the Scottish Specific Duties Regulations provide some scope for the Scottish Government to take action in the public sector, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap.

Scottish Government commissioned research to identify practical mechanisms and approaches used internationally to redress the undervaluation of women’s work, along with evaluation of their effectiveness and applicability in the Scottish context. Its focus is on traditionally low-paid jobs in social care, early learning and childcare, retail, catering and cleaning.

The research draws on an extensive desk-based research exercise complemented by interviews with key experts. The report includes 12 mini case studies of international mechanisms that aimed to improve the value attached to women’s work, with a view to identifying transferable learning in the Scottish context.

Key findings

There is considerable evidence that women in Scotland – as elsewhere – are at a disadvantage in the labour market and that their work is generally undervalued compared to men’s.

Undervaluation is a key driver of the gender pay gap and may mean that women are paid less than men for the same level of efficiency within the same job, and/or that women are heavily over-represented in occupations that tend to be lower paid and undervalued compared to those that are male dominated.

The term ‘collective bargaining’ means the process by which recognised trade unions negotiate with employers over pay, working conditions and other issues affecting their members. Evidence shows that, by number, the wholesale, retail and health and social care sectors employing high proportions of women, have the lowest collective bargaining coverage.

Despite gender pay gap reporting, there are no sanctions for employers who fail to comply with equal pay legislation and remedies for women generally rely on lengthy and expensive individual legal action. Unless backed by a trade union, this makes pay justice for most women unattainable. The intervention of ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers in the public sector – especially in Scottish local government – has required some women to pay for litigation.

Moreover, the research suggests that across Europe existing equal pay legislation is not being fully utilised as a vital tool to help women achieve equal pay for work of equal value and close the gender pay gap, whether through collective bargaining, legal action, or the design of gender-neutral Job Evaluation Schemes.

Use of Job Evaluation based on equal value principles is key to the revaluation of women’s work across all areas, but particularly relevant in the private sector where job evaluation schemes have not generally been designed to comply with equal pay legislation.

Across Europe, including in Scotland, there is evidence that lower government expenditure on public sector pay under austerity negatively impacted the gender pay gap, highlighting how public sector pay policies affect the valuation of women’s work. Privatisation and the contracting out of public services have had adverse outcomes for women, who form the majority of the workforce in public services. Privatisation has removed women from collective bargaining coverage and the ability to use equal pay legislation to address pay inequality.

Evidence indicates that women’s position in the labour market has been weakened by Covid-19 and that many mothers who were working at the start of the pandemic are now unemployed or working reduced hours.

Key recommendations

The following paragraphs provide a summary of the key recommendations based on the evidence review undertaken, case studies and interviews with key stakeholders. Detailed recommendations are available in the main body of the report.

Collective Bargaining

  • Unionisation and collective bargaining are key tools in closing the gender pay gap.
  • Systematic collection of data on pay and grading, hours and conditions of work by gender, but also enabling intersectional analysis, could be made mandatory for private and public employers in any future reform of equality legislation.
  • There is scope for the extension of sectoral collective bargaining to social care and/or for a separate bargaining group for health and social care workers, in line with the recommendations of the Feeley Report.
  • A National Care Service could also provide for the alignment of the health and social care workforces, allowing for the pay and grading of social care workers within either the Agenda for Change or Scottish Joint Council frameworks.

Job Evaluation

  • Scottish Government could provide training and support for private sector employers to develop equal value proofed job evaluation. The benchmarking Fair Work Employer Support Tool could include job evaluation.
  • There is potential for public sector job evaluation schemes to be adapted to apply to public facing jobs in the private sector.
  • Scottish Government could issue guidance to all public sector employers on the need to update and maintain job evaluation schemes and ensure that new and changed jobs are evaluated and correctly graded to achieve equal pay for work of equal value. This is particularly the case in the light of Covid-19, which has demonstrated that the knowledge and responsibilities of certain groups of women workers are not reflected in their grading and pay.
  • Evidence suggests that adequate funding should be made available to establish and maintain existing public sector pay and grading structures like Single Status and Agenda for Change that are designed to deliver equal pay for work of equal value.

Privatisation and Procurement

  • Privatisation and contracting out of public services are shown to have a negative impact on the valuation of women’s work. Scottish Government should consider reviewing its approach to the privatization of services.
  • Scottish Government could bring forward Fair Work Convention proposals that minimum contract standards should be developed for publicly funded social care services, including abandoning zero hours contracts.
  • Procurement regulations could have a greater focus on actions to reduce the gender pay gap, along with payment of the real living wage as the minimum rate of pay for any job.
  • Scottish Government could consider adoption of a free online self-analysis tool for contractors to provide evidence of compliance with equal pay legislation as part of wider compliance in companies with public contracts.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting

  • Scottish Government could strengthen gender pay gap reporting by revising the Scottish Specific Duties Regulations 2012. It could consider requiring public bodies to publish gender gap data on contracted-out workforces, as well as retention rates for those returning from maternity leave. It could develop some form of Equal Pay Certification, drawing on Iceland’s example, to strengthen compliance.
  • In a number of international examples, gender pay gap reports or action plans require the involvement of trade union or employee representatives.
  • As in California and Iceland, pay gap reporting measures could be extended to race and ethnicity and there should be discussion as to whether and how there could be further extension to cover other protected characteristics, as well as reporting on pay gaps between workers on standard and non-standard contracts, as introduced in Japan.

Expertise, Education and Training

  • Canada and New Zealand have appointed Pay Equity Commissioners or Government Negotiators to lead negotiations with key stakeholders. These are part of a bargaining framework for employers, workers and unions to negotiate equal pay in good faith and encourage the use of mediation and dispute resolution services, with legal action as a last resort. Scottish Government could consider the establishment of an Equal Pay Champion to encourage, monitor and advise on action to achieve equal pay across the economy and advise the Fair Work Ministerial Working Group and Civil Service departments.
  • Scottish Government could establish an ongoing programme of training and support for public and private sector HR professionals and key decision makers with a view to widening awareness of equal pay legislation and developing expertise in the use of job evaluation and other mechanisms to achieve equal pay. This could be a function of a Scottish Centre for Equal Pay.
  • Trade union expertise is important to address equal pay. Resources could be allocated to launch a long-term programme of training in equal pay and job evaluation for trade union representatives and paid officials.

The Law

  • Scottish Government could continue to lobby UK Government to develop more effective equal pay legislation based on collective, negotiated solutions as well as group litigation to replace the current individual complaints-based regime and could develop such an approach for future devolution.
  • New law should:
    • include a duty on employers to review their compensation practices, identify gender based inequalities, and take steps to eliminate them.
    • require ‘levelling up’ of women’s pay to that of men doing work of equal value and enshrine the right to proxy comparators, allowing women in predominantly female workplaces or sectors to cite male comparators not in the same workplace or employment in order to achieve equal pay.
  • Devolution of Employment Tribunals could increase scope for improved equal pay law.
  • Equal pay measures should cover workers on non-standard contracts, including so-called ‘self-employed workers’.



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