Nursing Times' ongoing series on Agenda for Change answers you questions on the new pay system. Here we look at equal pay claims.
I have heard that thousands of nurses have submitted equal pay claims after receiving their pay bands under AfC. Why has this situation come about and what do the pay claims involve?
It is true that over 8,000 public sector healthcare workers, including nurses, may have a claim against being paid less than their male counterparts - not necessarily male nurse counterparts, but other male public sector workers in roles that are deemed to have the same level of competence and expertise as nursing roles. The claims were initiated in 2005 by Peter Doyle, a Unison rep in Cumbria. With funding and support from his union, he helped 1,600 female health workers at two Cumbrian hospitals win the biggest ever equal pay deal: a total of £300m.
The claim was based on the concept of 'equal value' which was outlined in a European directive in the 1980s. It allows different jobs to be compared for skill, complexity and responsibility, focusing on the work, not the job - a concept which does seem to ties in with the idea behind Agenda for Change: fair pay for all.
To make the Cumbrian case, 'comparators' were found - i.e. men who do equivalent work to the women health workers for higher pay, e.g. a theatre nurse coordinator was compared with a foreman electrician and a staff nurse with an engineer.
Since this first claim, four unions - Unison, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the GMB and Amicus - have joined forces to create a legal team called the Equal Pay Unit, dedicated to dealing with equal pay claims generated by AfC. Claimants can get free legal advice as to whether they do have a claim, providing they are members of Unison.
These current claims are for up to six years back pay only - and so pay-outs will be considerably smaller than the Cumbria case. Although the deadline for submitting such a claim has not passed, nurses have changed jobs or retired could lose their entitlement to claim after six months of the ending of their contracts of employment.
The decision on whether a claim is valid is usually issued from the EPU within a few months. However, claims that are substantiated are then stalled by the tribunals, pending the testing of some preliminary issues. All similar cases will then be dealt with together.
However, RCN members will have to fund their own equal pay claim should they decide to take legal action. The college has decided to wait for the EPU to create a negotiated settlement, which its members can then use to claim back pay from the government.