Page last updated at 04:42 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 05:42 UK

One woman's fight for equal pay

Julie Hayward in the kitchen at Cammell Laird
Cooking up a case for equal pay - in the kitchen at Cammell Laird shipyard

By Alison Trowsdale
BBC News

Nearly 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was meant to close the gender pay gap, the government is seeking to bring in a new law aimed at tackling inequality in the workplace.

For Julie Hayward, the news has brought back memories of her historic court victory 21 years ago when she took on her employers in what was seen at the time as the first significant challenge under the Equal Pay Act.

In 1988, her name was headline news - and not just in the UK. She even made it onto the front pages of the Chinese daily newspapers.

Julie had just won a landmark legal victory for the right for women to equal pay.

Her case took 10 years and £50,000 of public money to prove, but eventually after three industrial tribunals, she won an appeal at the House of Lords.

"It was my Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame," she says.

Margaret Thatcher was in charge at Number 10 when Julie - a shipyard cook from Birkenhead - won her historic case.

Her union, the GMB, was triumphant, claiming her victory would open the floodgates to up to one million similar claims from low-paid women.

But the anticipated number of claims never materialised, although the TUC says her case "clarified the legal position for other claimants".

For Julie, it was "never about the money. It was the principle that drove me on".

Her case centred on the fact that although she was working in a kitchen, the level of training required and the skills and demands made upon her were equivalent to many of her male colleagues in the shipyard.

The case was the first to accept the principle of equal pay for work of equal value - after the government was forced to amend the Equal Pay Act in 1984 to bring the UK into line with the rest of the then European Economic Community.

Stretch limo

The case pushed Julie reluctantly into the public eye. She was heralded as a champion of women's rights.

Pursued by press photographers whenever she set foot outside the house, she was forced to move home briefly.

Julie's fight for equal pay was filmed for Newsnight in 1984

Her local chip shop - run by the Chinese community - produced newspapers from China with her name on the front pages.

And she was even wooed with the prospect of a stretch limo and a night at a posh hotel to appear on Terry Wogan's nightly TV chat show - an invitation she turned down flat.

"This was never about me being something I'm not," she said.

"As soon as people found out my name at the time, they were like, 'oh you're Julie Hayward' thank you... They never let me get beyond that.

"And I felt if I didn't perform how people expected me to perform, I'd be letting them down."


Julie had left school at 16 with no qualifications and limited prospects. But buoyed by her court victory and new-found confidence, she decided to abandon the shipyard canteen for a career in youth work.

Determined to go somewhere she could live a more anonymous existence, she moved to London, where she ran a successful drop-in project for young people in Bromley.

From there, she moved to Bexley where she is now running a £3m annual budget as head of the council's youth service, dealing every day with young people's issues from drugs to knives, teenage pregnancy and racism.

Julie's court victory was headline news in May 1988

"I think I'm very, very lucky to be doing this and sharing my passion, if you like, with people. I like to think I do give aspiration to others, not only young women... to people who might have had poor education, and say you can do it, you can get there.

"One of the things I learned from my shipyard experiences, being outside on the picket line and collective action sometimes works, but not always these days.

"The power of the pen is much mightier and I think that one of the reasons I've gone into management is that I can influence and make changes and differences from within."

The gender pay gap has narrowed since the late 1980s, when it was above 30%, but it is still running at 23% - if you include the average salaries of full and part-time workers.

Julie remains optimistic: "It did have an impact at the time, but the glass ceiling still exists for women.

"We will continue. People have a greater understanding of equality now, not just for women, but for all people.

"Not everything's right, but things do change and little things make a difference."

Pictures by Emma Lynch. Archive images courtesy of Liverpool Echo and Pat Mantle.

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