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.


This report shows that successfully achieving equal pay for women in low-paid occupations depends on addressing a number of issues. While some measures are beyond the current jurisdiction of the SG, there are actions that can be taken. Current equal pay law within the Equality Act 2010 is weak and prohibitive and places the onus on individual women to seek justice, rather than providing collective solutions. Procedures are lengthy and women who are not trade union members are unlikely to be able to proceed with a claim. The intervention of ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers in mass equal pay litigation in local government may have enabled women to seek legal redress, but legal fees have been deducted from some settlements. Lack of knowledge and understanding, together with the weak application and enforcement of existing equal pay legislation means that it is not being fully utilised as a vital tool to help close the GPG, whether in collective bargaining, legal action or the design of gender-neutral job evaluation schemes.

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ISESCR) both call for effective legal systems that eliminate all forms of gender discrimination and deliver equal pay. CEDAW calls for signatories:

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination
  • to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organisations or enterprises

ISESCR, Article 7, calls for:

‘(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work.’

Through the establishment of the National Taskforce on Human Rights Leadership and the forthcoming Human Rights Bill, the SG has shown a commitment to incorporating CEDAW into Scottish law and can move to further ensure the delivery of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value across the Scottish economy and public sector. To this end, all SG departments, public bodies and agencies with remits that span the economy, the labour market and pay policy or which scrutinise or regulate the actions of public bodies, should be required to undergo training in equal pay law and practice. Common guidance and standards for ensuring that pay equity is mainstreamed in their work could be developed by the proposed Scottish Centre for Equal Pay or existing equality bodies.

Government is responsible for ensuring expertise and knowledge of rights to equal pay and mechanisms to secure it. This may mean a widespread programme of education of employers, HR professionals and trade unionists across the economy and labour market. The report emphasises that a whole layer of expertise in job evaluation has been lost and needs to be renewed. Regular training in equal pay and job evaluation for workers, trade unions and employers is necessary so that a body of expertise can be built up and maintained over time. The current legal case allowing for comparison of cashiers and warehouse workers in large national retailers offers an opportunity (once the legal case is finalised) for the SG to work with and support retail employers to ensure pay equity for their workers, extending job evaluation into the private sector. The appointment of an Equal Pay Champion could lead this work, as well as ensuring that current JE in the public sector is revised and updated, including for Scottish Parliament employees and government arms-length and trading organisations.

A commitment to a proactive pay equity approach and a move away from the individual complaints-based regime that has led to recent adversarialism and litigation would be a significant start. Government commitment is essential to ensuring equal pay for work of equal value and higher pay for women in catering, cleaning, care, retail, early learning and childcare work. Adequate funding of public sector mechanisms to deliver equal pay for work of equal value such as Single Status is essential. Stronger systems of collective bargaining and sectoral bargaining are associated with a narrower Gender Pay Gap and need to be put in place or encouraged by the SG. The extension of collective bargaining could begin to address the under-evaluation of the work and pay of cleaners and care workers and recognise their responsibilities under Covid-19. The creation of a National Care Service provides an important opportunity for implementing job evaluation in social care work, providing steps are taken to ensure comparability with jobs of equal value in other sectors and that equal pay rights are not undermined by the ‘ring-fencing’ of predominantly female care workers within a single bargaining unit.

The report emphasises the damage done to women workers by privatisation and their removal from collective bargaining and union organisation. A move away from the culture of privatisation and contracting out by the SG would be a huge step forward for women. A start could be made in ScotRail, with the restoration of collective bargaining and JE to cleaning and catering workers.

Our research also attests to the reality that equal pay costs in terms of money and human resources and unless pay audits, job evaluation, pay settlements and services are properly resourced and funded, the revaluation of the work of women in Scotland will not be possible.



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