The Final Whistle Blows for Gender Pay Gap in Irish Senior Football
The FAI has announced that men's and women's senior football teams will receive equal international match fees with immediate effect.

 

The Football Association of Ireland (the FAI) has announced that men's and women's senior football teams will receive equal international match fees with immediate effect. Described as “a ground-breaking deal for Irish sport” by the FAI, this development represents a significant victory for female athletes.

Stephen Kenny’s senior men's team has agreed to reduce its international fees to ensure that the international fees of Vera Pauw’s senior women’s team are increased. The FAI will match the decrease ensuring that all male and female players will receive the same match fee.

In this article, we consider the Irish employment equality regime and recent updates in this area. These changes may serve as a catalyst for large organisations, such as the FAI, to take positive actions to promote gender equality. 

The FAI's decision to increase the women’s international fees follows similar decisions of several foreign associations. The English Football Association announced equal pay for its men's and women's teams last year. The Brazilian Football Association has taken steps to do the same. However, despite equal pay, the income male and female players can earn globally from international tournaments differs enormously because of the gender disparity in prize money offered by football's governing bodies. The European governing body, UEFA, has come under fire in the past as the Women’s Champions League had a prize 160 times lower than the Men's at €460,000. Following an outcry from commentators and fans, UEFA has committed to increasing the prize by €24m this season. However, the prize is still significantly lower than the men's competition.

The FAI has agreed on an equal approach between the senior men’s and women’s teams concerning any future qualification for international tournaments. Whether this would alter prize money accumulated by the respective teams or whether the FAI could objectively justify any differential in pay resulting from tournament money is yet to be determined. 

Employment Equality Legislation

In Ireland, equal pay provisions are contained in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2021 (Employment Equality Acts). Under this legislation, an employer is prohibited from paying an employee less than someone of the opposite sex in the same employment doing 'like work’. An employer is entitled to demonstrate an objective justification for a pay differential unrelated to any of the protected characteristics under the Employment Equality Acts (including gender). 

Complaints related to unequal pay can be brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The time period within which an employee (or former employee) can take such a claim is significantly longer than the usual six-month limit (or 12 months where there is reasonable cause for the delay) imposed on taking most employment-related claims to the WRC. These statutory time limits do not apply to claims related to unequal pay. 

The WRC can make an order for equal pay and an order for compensation in the form of arrears of remuneration. Organisations should also bear in mind that following recent case law in Ireland, WRC hearings are now held in public. All decisions are now published online with party names no longer being anonymised, as once was the case.

Equal pay-related complaints are becoming more frequent. In February 2020, the WRC upheld a claim of gender pay discrimination and awarded compensation of almost €100,000 to a former manager (Ms X) in an unnamed video-game wholesaler. In that case, the employer successfully argued that Ms X had been appointed to her role on an interim basis and that her role was "fundamentally different" to that of her predecessor. However, the employer failed to rebut Ms X's case of gender pay discrimination as Ms X's role "prima facie was of equal or greater value". The WRC’s 2020 annual report states gender as one of the most cited grounds of referrals made under employment equality claims.

Similarly, high profile cases taken by women's sports teams have raised the issue of equal pay. The US women’s national football team has won four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and have performed significantly better than their male counterparts in recent years. In 2020, the team filed a class-action lawsuit claiming unequal pay and gender-based discrimination by the US Soccer Federation. Although the claim was rejected based on an economic justification (the men's team performed poorly during the year such that they actually earned less per game, despite having a much higher earning potential), the case places the issue of equal pay in sport under a global spotlight.   

Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 

Many sporting organisations will soon be subject to the mandatory reporting obligations in the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021. The Act requires employers to publish details on the pay differences between male and female employees, including: 
the mean and median hourly remuneration for part-time and full-time male and female employees;

  • the mean and median bonuses of male and female employees; 
  • the percentages of men and women receiving bonuses and benefits in kind; and
  • an explanation of any gender pay gap (GPG) arising and details of any measures they are taking, or proposing to take, to address this gap. 

It is anticipated that these reporting obligations will be implemented on a phased basis, commencing in January 2022 for organisations with 250 or more employees. After three years, the scope of the reporting obligation will be extended to organisations with 50 or more employees. The WRC can make an order requiring the employer to take a specified course of action to comply with the Act. With the reporting process due to begin in 2022, compliance is more than ever imperative for employer’s reputation, its recruitment processes, and fan expectations. According to the 2020 European Commission factsheet on the GPG, Ireland’s GPG is 14.4%.

Conclusion

Employers and sporting organisations must be conscious of their gender-related obligations under employment law. With equal pay and gender equality claims becoming increasingly more frequent and the new obligations under the GPG legislation, employers should ensure that they review and update any outdated practices that may still be in place.

Irish employers should also consider their internal procedures to ensure they will comply with GPG reporting obligations. If a GPG exists in their organisation, consider how this can be tackled and ultimately reduced.

Please contact Catherine O'Flynn, Derek Hegarty or your usual William Fry contact for further advice or assistance.

 

Contributed by Thérèse Chambers, Jordie Sattar & Karolina Rozhnova 

Key Contacts

Craig Sowman Partner

Derek Hegarty Partner