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Merit pay schemes 'favour men'

Market-driven pay systems may slow down the push towards equality between men and women or even reverse it, according to a survey conducted for the Equal Opportunities Commission.

It accuses employers and union officials of 'an astonishing degree of ignorance, complacency and prejudice on the subject of women's pay and employment'.

Companies often use merit pay to bring rates in line with the market, according to Pay and Gender in Britain 2, prepared by the research organisation Industrial Relations Services. It says that even the most 'objective' systems of merit pay and appraisal are likely to apply more readily to jobs performed by men. The study found that performance assessments of women's occupations often focus on attitudes and behavioural characteristics and casual judgements by line managers.

'Male' jobs are also more likely to receive market supplements than 'female' occupations and a lower ceiling may be applied when the payments are made to women. Employers fail to monitor the 'gender impact' of their flexible systems of pay. Where monitoring has been introduced it has been because of union pressure.

Some personnel specialists admitted they could be doing more to rectify inequalities they knew about, but were not under pressure to do so. There was also a reluctance to investigate pay and gender issues in case the repercussions proved costly for their organisation. Although a few unions were pursuing pay equality issues by supporting cases to industrial tribunals or responding to the implications of legal decisions, most were unable or unwilling to act.

The European Court of Justice yesterday dismissed an attempt by the Equal Opportunities Commission to have the discriminatory treatment of men and women in Britain's state pension scheme declared illegal, writes Tim Jackson.

British law requires men to work for five years longer than women before they receive a pension, and requires working men between 60 and 65 to continue paying pension contributions even though working women of the same age need not.

Yesterday's case hung on the meaning of a directive agreed by the EC states in 1987. This outlawed sex discrimination in national pension systems in principle, but allowed discrimination to continue in practice to avoid disrupting the schemes' financial equilibrium.

Pay and Gender in Britain 2, available from IRS, 18-20 Highbury Place, London N5 1QP.

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