It depends on the reason for the pay difference. Employers are allowed to agree to pay different workers at different rates of pay for doing the same job, as long as they do not breach equality laws. These laws include:
- equal pay laws, designed to eliminate unjustifiable pay differences that are linked to gender;
- other anti-discrimination laws, such as laws against indirect discrimination. These could be breached, for example, if the design of a pay system disadvantages groups of workers such as black or minority ethnic workers, women who have had children, or younger workers, where any pay differences cannot be justified;
- laws to prevent unjustifiable pay differences that affect part-time, fixed-term and agency workers; and
- other laws that are designed to prevent the employer punishing workers who exercise their statutory rights, for example paying someone less because they have blown the whistle on their employer, or because they act as a union rep.
As long as laws like these are not being broken, then as long as the employer pays above the National Minimum Wage, they are free to agree different rates of pay for different workers, based on factors such as:
- working patterns;
- skills and competencies;
- seniority or length of service;
- work location; or
- duties, and so on.
Unions have campaigned for many years about unjustified pay inequality.
Sometimes differences in pay are the result of past events. Where an organisation has grown out of lots of mergers and amalgamations, incoming employees bring their own set of contract terms. It is against the law – a breach of the Transfer of Undertaking Protection of Employment Regulations 2006 – for the new employer after a TUPE transfer to cut the pay and other terms and conditions of the incoming workforce simply so as to bring them into line with the lower terms being paid to the existing workers.
This is known as "harmonisation" and is unlawful. For this reason, large organisations often end up inheriting different sets of terms and conditions that entitle different groups of workers to different rates of pay for doing the same job.
If you are concerned about a difference in pay where you work, it is usually a good idea to raise this with management – informally at first, and then in writing. It is often easier to tackle this sort of issue collectively than on your own. You may well find that you are not the only person at work who is affected by this.
Unions have lots of expertise negotiating on pay. If you are not a union member, browse our Union Finder tool to find out which union best suits your needs, and to discover more about organising to secure union recognition at your workplace.