Nearly a fifth (18%) of workers have been told that they are not allowed to discuss their pay with co-workers, according to new polling published by the TUC and GQR Research.

Over a two-week period, they conducted an online poll of 2700 respondents aged 16+ in work in Great Britain.

The survey found that 50% of workers do not know what senior managers in their organisations are paid, while slightly more (53%) are not given information about other people’s pay where they work.

Fewer than one in five (18%) report that their workplace has a transparent pay policy, where salary details are available to everyone through an official source.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady described pay secrecy clauses as a “get out of jail free card” for bad bosses.

“They stop workers from challenging unfair pay, allow top executives to hoard profits and encourage discrimination against women and disabled people,” she said. “Talking about pay can feel a bit uncomfortable, but more openness about wages is essential to building fairer workplaces.”

Suggestions for change

The TUC is calling on the Government to:

  • ban pay secrecy clauses outright so that everyone can talk about their pay and other work benefits to anyone and for any reason

  • deliver stronger union rights so that trade unions can ensure transparent and fair processes for setting pay rates

  • commit to introducing the cutting-edge pay transparency measures being considered at European level.

The European Union is considering union-backed plans for new legislation on pay transparency as part of its commitment to reducing the gender pay, earnings and pensions gaps.

In some countries, including Sweden, Finland and Norway, everyone’s income tax returns are published and workers can easily find out what their colleagues earn.

Comment by Croner Associate Director Paul Holcroft

Although many employers implement pay secrecy clauses as a way of preventing wage disputes, it is worth considering how effective these measures are. After all, legislation already permits staff to circumvent any restrictions imposed by pay secrecy clauses if the purpose of their discussions relates to concerns over equal pay.

Also, employers should consider that if staff want to discuss salaries, it is likely that they are going to do so, regardless of any contractual restrictions.

There is, after all, no way for employers to know for sure if staff are comparing salaries in their own time or discreetly at work.

Efforts to manage what employees can and can’t talk about may also create ill-feeling at work. After all, as long as pay practices are fair and non-discriminatory, employers should have nothing to fear from these discussions.

Last reviewed 23 January 2020