Over the Christmas break I binged on Peaky Blinders. It passed me by the first time around and I am grateful to the BBC for adding the whole back catalogue for our festive enjoyment. So far, I have got as far as series 4, episode 1.
I sat last night, watching Thomas Shelby, of Shelby Company limited, deal with an equal pay claim from the female employees in the wire cutting shop. Thomas Shelby, OBE knows the law (at the time), since he desperately seeks business legitimacy as he tries to distance himself from his previous misdemeanours . He declares that all the employees in the wire cutting shop are women and therefore there are no male comparators and rejects the claim. However, the female convenor is tenacious and thorough and has done her homework. She has traced the various subsidiary companies held by the Shelby Company limited. She explains to Thomas that a similar factory, that he owns, has a shop full of male wire cutters and that they earn ten shillings a week more, for doing the same work as the female cutters.
Thomas’ solution is to propose to give the female cutters an extra five shilling a week. However he also proposes to advise the male cutters that they will be required to take a five shilling a week pay cut, in order to achieve pay equality, in line the request from the trade union convenor.
Does the Peaky Blinders equal pay plan ring any bells?
Carrie Gracie at the BBC took a stand this week on equal pay for equal work. As an international editor she expected to be paid the same as her two male peers doing like work in different regions for the BBC – indeed she maintains that this was a conditional understanding when she took the post. She subsequently discovered, through the recently published pay data, that she was not being paid the same as the others, by some margin, and she resigned from the post. She was offered her five shillings, a £45K increase on her £135K salary, but she declined it, on the grounds that she did not want to ‘collude’ with “unlawful pay discrimination”.
I can’t help wondering that if she had accepted the offer, whether the BBC would have adopted the full Peaky Blinder equal pay plan, and advised her peers that they would have had to give up their five shillings??
I don’t know what is going to happen in Peaky Blinders, when the convenor, Jessie Eden, meets with her TU executive to discuss the female wire cutters on Boxing day – no spoilers please! My learning from my time at Ford Dagenham – and the legacy of an equal pay claim in seat manufacture (made famous by the film Made in Dagenham)suggests to me that it will not be quite as simple as Thomas thinks and that he will likely have to change his plan.
I am clear that Carrie Gracie, through her professionalism of approach and communication skills, has framed the perfect test case. She is clear this is a simple matter of expecting to be paid equal pay for like work. A right that was established in law, in the 1970 Equal Pay Act. I am also clear that this is not just an issue for the BBC.
It strikes me, 48 years after the Act became law we need to show some leadership and fix it, rather than spend another 50 years explaining away the difference.
It’s actually about ethical leadership.