Women given boost to end the pay gap

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Women seeking equality against employers who pay them less than their male colleagues were given a boost by the government yesterday with the announcement of new proposals making it easier for them to fight their case.

Women seeking equality against employers who pay them less than their male colleagues were given a boost by the government yesterday with the announcement of new proposals making it easier for them to fight their case.

In a move to tackle the pay gap between male and female earnings the Government said it intended to make "real progress" by making it easier for women to take cases to tribunals.

Ministers yesterday published a consultation paper with changes designed to close the 18 per cent gap in the level of men's and women's pay.

In future, women will be able to claim for back pay for up to six years, instead of the current two-year time limit. New guidelines will also make it easier for women to take their bosses to a hearing for sex discrimination if they are constantly passed over for promotion in favour of men.

"If we are to make real progress on pay equality, we must streamline the system for dealing with equal pay claims," said Tessa Jowell, Employment minister. "The new proposals will ensure that equal pay cases are quicker, easier and fairer for everyone."

From now on women will be able to take their bosses to a tribunal up to six months after leaving their jobs. They will also receive guidance about the kind of proof they must produce in order to succeed in a claim.

The Government will retain the mechanism that allows weak cases to be quickly dismissed and will cut red tape to speed up the administration of deserving cases. Employers will no longer be able to claim that there are "no reasonable grounds" for a case against them involving different levels of pay for equal value work.

However the Confederation of British Industry warned that the change would enable poor claims with limited evidence to proceed.

"It is good news that ministers plan to streamline tribunal proceedings," said John Cridland, Deputy Director-General of the CBI. "It is in everyone's interest that tribunals deliver quick and efficient justice. But the proposal to remove the no-reasonable claims-grounds defence will worry business because it may make it more difficult to dismiss weak claims."

There were 7,500 cases brought to industrial tribunals last year on sex discrimination, of which 2,500 were about equal pay. The average award made in sex discrimination cases was just under £2,200. Ministers want to speed up industrial tribunal rulings on pay cases which can take years and are a deterrent to women.

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