If your pay is determined through collective pay bargaining between your union and your employer, the rate of pay will be the result of a negotiated pay settlement. Many public sector workers have been subjected to pay freezes and below-inflation pay increases since the start of the economic downturn.
Every worker is entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage, and this includes, for example, time spent travelling between assignments, time on sleep-in shifts and time spent at work waiting for a shift to start if your employer requires you to be on or near the premises. If your claim relates to failure to pay the National Minimum Wage, speak to your union or contact the Acas Helpline. With your permission, they can contact HMRC who can begin enforcement proceedings on your behalf to recover back pay. It is a good idea to speak to your co-workers to make sure that everybody benefits.
There is also a voluntary Living Wage, set each year by the Living Wage Foundation. This is set at a higher rate than the government’s National Minimum Wage and is based on an independent assessment of the amount people need to get by. Employers that commit to pay the voluntary living wage are expected to implement the rate as soon as possible and at least within six months, so that all workers get the new rate by 1 May of the following year.
If you work for a public body such as a local authority - or a private company providing public services, such as a provider of community-based social care - it is worth remembering that your employer owes a formal statutory duty – known as the Public Sector Equality Duty – to have "due regard" to the need to eliminate discrimination when carrying out their functions – including, for example, when deciding the terms on which private providers will be commissioned to provide services. Unions are experts on the public sector equality duty. You can find out more about it on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
If the basis of your complaint is that you are not being paid the National Minimum Wage, see our section on the minimum wage and how to claim it.
If your employer does not recognise a union, it is likely that your pay will have been set by the employer alone. In which case, speak to your manager, informally at first, about your rate of pay and the reasons why it has been set as this level.
If you still feel that you are not being paid a correct rate and your manager refuses to deal with the issue, you could consider raising a formal grievance, following your organisation's grievance procedure.
If this still does not resolve matters, you may want to consider bringing a tribunal claim. But, seek legal advice first, as you will need to be sure you have a legal right to higher pay before making your claim. Any claim must be brought promptly and within the specified time limit.
Where a large number of workers are all being paid less than their legal entitlement, a group claim can sometimes be brought in the employment tribunal or the civil courts. This kind of claim is often coordinated by a trade union, and sometimes a positive outcome can benefit hundreds or even thousands of workers.
For more information on bringing a claim in the employment tribunal, see our section on Enforcing your Rights.
In practice, the best way to secure decent pay for most workers is through collective bargaining by a recognised union. Collective bargaining can only take place if a union is recognised where you work. You can find out more about the process of building union membership and securing union recognition on our Union Finder page. The more workers that join the union, the stronger the case for recognition will be, even if your employer objects, and the stronger the union’s voice will be when it comes to negotiating better pay and other terms and conditions.