The fact women get paid less than men across the board because they're women does my head in, to put it inelegantly. So it was heartening to read last week that the UK Supreme Court has made a pay equity ruling described by lawyers as "landmark" and "historic".

The court ruled that pay inequality claims could be filed up to six years later, even if a woman has since left her job. Prior to this it was just six months.

The decision hinged on a case involving 174 women who worked for the Birmingham City Council, who were denied the bonuses given to workers in male-dominated jobs like refuse collecting, street cleaning and road works. The council had tried to silence the women by arguing their grievances were too late.

Law firm Leigh Day & Co, who represented the women, described the ruling as: "the most radical reform to Equal Pay since the original legislation was introduced in 1970 ... with huge implications for thousands of workers."


The equal pay landmark has implications for employers, too, who are now facing the possibility of equal pay claims dating back six years, not six months. Estimates sit at around £2m in compensation for this case alone.

Under New Zealand's Equal Pay Act 1972 women over this way already have six years for pay equity claims. Although the Employment Relations Act 2000 says a personal grievance must be raised within three months, with action taken within three years. Which is a bit confusing.

As far as significant rulings in this country go, there was a notable pay inequity case in 2007 that went to the New Zealand Human Rights Review Tribunal and then the Court of Appeal. Talleys' fish processing plant at Motueka was found to be giving lower paid fish trimmer roles to women and reserving the higher paid fish filleting roles for men. A fish trimmer called Caitlin Lewis filed the case. She won.

The judgment stated: "The reason she received less money was because she was made a trimmer, and the reason she was made a trimmer was because she was a woman."

It was considered a landmark case mainly because the fish trimming roles assigned to the men and women were deemed "substantially similar", and the definition of "substantially similar" had never really been put to test in the courts before.

Of the win, EEO Commissioner Judy McGregor said: "It means that employers should not be segregating women into work that is substantially similar to work being undertaken by men but with less money ... The decision also upholds the rights of a female complainant to legitimately reject lower pay for work in these circumstances - good on her".

P.S. Statistics NZ's most recent income survey shows this country's gender pay gap is about 9.3 per cent. Why and how and what now is for another blog, but in the meantime keep your eye on the National Equal Opportunities Network for pay equity developments, legal or otherwise.

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