Q. Given the financial situation this year I'm cancelling Christmas, but I want to help out my children by sending some money for each of my grandchildren.
They all live in Australia, South Africa and Canada and I'm worried that money may go missing. What's the best way to send it?
A. It is best not to post cash as there's no guarantee it won't go missing. It might be nice for the children to open a card and find notes in it but there's no need to send paper money. There are lots of ways of transferring it safely, from sending it through specialist currency companies to sending it via your bank or transferring money online. Even the Post Office can help you.
Ask your sons/daughters for an account to transfer the money into. You can send each grandchild a card telling them that there is money for them in their own account or their parent's account. You could make up a "voucher" for the value of £xx to be redeemed at the bank of mum or dad. Then shop around until you're happy with a transfer that is safe, suits your time scale and amount, and will have the money to be available to the children as soon as you transfer.
You want to know how much South African, Canadian or Australian money will reach the children for the amount of money you are sending. The important thing is to check the charges and exchange rates to make sure you get the best deals. The charges and transfer fees reduce the amount they get and exchange rates do change from day to day.
You also want to be sure you're dealing with a reputable company that is regulated. Banks are regulated, but if you decide to use a currency specialist make sure they're reputable and authorised by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) under the Payment Services Regulations 2009. Companies that are authorised by the FSA have had to meet strict rules, comply with payment services regulations and the FSA's conduct of business requirements. They must also be registered with HM Customs as an overseas money service business.
Q. I have been working for the same small manufacturing company for five years and have been happy there. There are only two women working in the engineering side doing different jobs. However, I've discovered that I am not being paid as much as the three men who do exactly the same job as me.
I didn't think about it before as the boss has always been very fair about letting people take time off when they need it and generous with holidays, but I accidentally found out when one of the men left his emails open. The men are also getting another pay rise soon which no one has mentioned to me and that will make the difference even bigger.
I've been with the firm for the same length of time as one of my male colleagues and longer than another one. I don't think any of us have particular qualifications, so why are they being paid more?
I haven't talked to the other woman I work with yet and have no idea whether she gets paid the same as the men who work alongside her. I'm worried about rocking the boat. We don't have a union and I can't afford to lose my job but I feel let down. Should I keep my mouth shut or is there anything I can do?
A. I can understand that you don't want to rock the boat but there are laws to cover equal pay which your boss shouldn't ignore. On saying that, experts reckon it could be another 50 years before we really have equal pay. Men and women in the same employment have the right to equal pay for work of the same value. Where men and women, working for the same employer, are doing the same or similar work (like work), work rated as equivalent in a job evaluation study by the employer, or work of equal value, they are entitled to the same terms in their employment contract and that includes rates of pay. There may be some exceptions where there is a genuine reason for the difference.
Under the Equality Act, if you feel you are being discriminated against because of your sex, it may be unlawful. And under the same Act employees are free to talk to each other about their wages. So you may have a fairly straightforward case. That doesn't mean you want to go in with all guns blazing, but if you don't address the issue you are likely to get even angrier. Have a calm, reasonable conversation sooner rather than later. If you boss is as fair as you say he is, this may get sorted out quickly.
Part of the problem is that men ask for pay rises and women don't. You don't mention whether you have asked or not, but from the tone of your letter I suspect not. There's still also the perception that men are the breadwinners and women do second jobs for extra household income. That can lead to bosses being more sympathetic to requests from men for pay rises.
If you don't do the same job as your woman colleague it isn't her job you need to compare salaries with. Compare with the men who do the same job as you. As I've said, you are entitled to be paid the same wage for doing the same work. Sometimes it's reasonable to pay someone with more experience or better qualifications more for doing the same job, but from what you say that's not the case here.
The official way is to take out a grievance procedure against your boss and ultimately bring a claim to an employment tribunal for discrimination. I'm sure you don't want to do either of those. However, you are entitled to ask for your pay to be made equal and your employer can't sack you for asking for something that is your right under employment law. So it's best to talk to your employer and try to sort out the matter informally. You can write to your employer if you think you have been discriminated against because of your sex, but again as he's been so fair on everything else he will probably react better to a friendly (not angry!) approach.
You should talk this over with someone before you see your boss. Check whether there's a law centre in your area or call Acas (the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service) which offers free, confidential and impartial advice on employment matters on 08457 474747 or www.acas.org.uk.