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The GP gender earnings gap

The Equality Act may lessen the £15,425 pay disparity between female and male doctors. By Arpita Dutt

The 2009 report by the National Working Group on Women in Medicine made recommendations to remove the obstacles and compromises women must make when combining childcare with their career.

The Equality Act 2010 was passed in April and lists new equal pay measures aimed at achieving greater transparency and protection for equal pay.

The change in government since then means some aspects of the act may be amended but it is likely some measures will come into force in October 2010.

These are welcome developments but does more need to be done to ensure equal pay for female GPs?

Also in 2009, the BMA's The Pay Gap for Women in Medicine and Academic Medicine exposed a raw pay gap of up to £15,245 with women doctors on average earning 18 per cent less than male doctors. The National Working Group's report also established that only 46 per cent of female GPs are partners, but of those not partners, 76 per cent would like to achieve partnership.

Working rights
A salaried GP only gains entitlement to full NHS working rights after one year of employment. To avoid this, some GP practices give contracts of just under a year, which then fail to provide any job security.

While maternity leave for salaried GPs is a legal requirement, it seems there are practices that avoid taking on female GPs of childbearing age whether as partners or employees, or are unwilling to cover the costs of maternity leave including funding locum cover.

Under the Equal Pay Act 1970 men and women should rec-eive equal pay for equal work. A woman employed in Britain is entitled to contractual terms that are as favourable as those for a comparable male in the same employment.

The Equal Pay Act may not protect self-employed GP partners, while salaried GPs are likely to be protected. This act was amended in 2005 to protect women's pay during pregnancy and maternity leave.

A woman who has taken maternity leave must not forfeit any maternity pay or any rise in pay on return to work, or bonus that which she would otherwise have gained.

Equal pay is achieved by 'implying' an equality clause in a woman's employment contract. This operates to replace any less favourable term with an equivalent more favourable term in a man's contract.

This will not alter a woman's employment contract if the employer proves the difference is a reasonable and proport- ionate means of achieving a 'legitimate business aim'.

Employees are not legally required to keep their pay confidential. The new Equality Act seeks to protect employees from victimisation when disclosing or discussing pay if they are analysing possible discrimination or collecting evidence on pay disparity.

So a salaried GP woman who thinks she may have an equal pay claim can ask the practice questions either in writing or using a statutory equal pay questionnaire. This will help her determine if she has a claim.

Employment tribunal
Equal Pay Act claims may be taken to an employment tribunal. The claimant should seek advice but generally the time limit for bringing a claim is six months after the last day the woman was employed or working under a particular contract. A tribunal can enforce payment of arrears of pay for up to six years, or award damages for breach of a non-pay related contract condition.

Many GPs on short, fixed-term contracts are protected by the Fixed Term Employees Regulations 2002. These provide fixed-term employees, unless there is objective justification, the right to equal treatment to that of a permanent employee doing broadly similar work.

Also, the Part-Time Workers Regulations 2000 provide for equal treatment of part-time workers. This is important as many more female GPs than male work part-time.

  • Arpita Dutt is a partner in solicitors Russell Jones & Walker's employment department, www.rjw.co.uk
Key points
  • The number of female GP partners has increased only marginally over the past decade, despite amendments in the law to protect women's pay during pregnancy and maternity leave.
  • The main provisions of the Equality Act are due to come into force in October 2010, with other changes to follow. This is pending the coalition government's decision on whether it thinks the act should be fully implemented in its current form.
  • If you think you have an equal pay claim, seek advice promptly and check the time limits for claiming.

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