'The days of pay secrecy are over'

Unite members at IT firm Fujitsu in Manchester celebrate key pay transparency win in fight for fair pay

Reading time: 6 min

They say knowledge is power – and Unite members at IT firm Fujitsu in Manchester stand ready to wield it after a key win earlier this year. 

For years, Fujitsu has withheld vital information on colleagues’ pay across the company. Not only has this made it nigh on impossible to have effective pay negotiations, but it’s also worked to obscure what reps have worried were widening pay gaps in the workplace.

Unite Fujitsu members in Manchester – which is the only Unite recognised workplace within Fujitsu nationally – had had enough of the company stonewalling them at every turn by refusing to release this vital pay data. So they took the employer to a special tribunal.

This tribunal, a legal body known as the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), ensures that UK labour laws relating to trade union recognition are followed. In July, the CAC agreed with Unite that reps in Manchester should have access to national level pay and benefits data as part of pay bargaining.

Unite reps at Fujitsu said they were “delighted and relieved” that the CAC ruled in their favour.

“This was really uncharted territory for us and for Unite as a whole,” one rep told UniteLive. “Our victory was far from certain. But now, thanks to this win, we’ve secured the right to a significant trove of information on pay and benefits that will enable us to fight for fairer and better wages for our members.”

What makes this win even more noteworthy is that it will have far-reaching implications for all unionised workplaces.

“It sets an important precedent and sends a message to all employers that they have to be transparent with their recognised union on pay – the days of pay secrecy are over,” the rep explained.

Since getting hold of some of this data, Unite reps at Fujitsu in Manchester have found what they believe are concerning pay gaps among, for example, women, people of different ethnicities and even workers with disabilities who are in the same roles as better paid colleagues.

“What we found was quite shocking and disappointing given how much lip service the company pays to diversity and inclusion,” a Unite rep said.

“We also found pay gaps among people without protected characteristics such as gender and race,” they added. “We’ve found ourselves in a situation where many people are being paid less than others for doing the exact same job.”

How did it come to this then? The Unite reps we spoke to, who wish to remain anonymous, told UniteLive that Fujitsu has over the last several years, moved toward greater and greater pay secrecy.

Previously, the company had a system in place where employees could not be paid less than 75% of average pay for a job within the same ‘role code’, or groups of roles with similar duties. It was a vital wage floor that helped guard against significant pay gaps.

But in 2020, Fujitsu did away with both these wage floors and with its previous level of relative pay transparency. Ever since, employees and their union representatives have been totally left in the dark.

“When you don’t know how much everyone is paid, both within the workplace and the wider industry, you don’t know your relative worth,” explained one Unite rep.

But now all of that is about to change as Fujitsu must comply with the full CAC ruling, which is binding. Unite says the company is dragging its feet on releasing some of the data – the union is urging Fujitsu to fully comply with its legal obligations or face further action.

Once Unite receives the data in full, reps have never been more optimistic about securing a fair pay rise for Fujitsu workers who haven’t had a decent wage uplift in years, with pay failing to keep up with inflation even before the cost of living crisis.

“Armed with the ‘hard facts’ on not only pay but also on other benefits such as car allowance, health insurance and out-of-hours payments, we will be in a strong position to present the company with a rock-solid case for a significant pay rise,” a Unite rep told us.

“After all, we’re talking about a hugely profitable multinational company which reported — in the middle of the pandemic no less — profits that were ‘the highest in Fujitsu’s history’, with profits only continuing to climb since.”

A survey of members last year showed that a huge majority of members are crying out for pay transparency from Fujitsu – less than a mere 2 per cent of those surveyed thought pay and benefits should be kept secret.

Reinstating minimum pay floors was also a big priority for members – more than 80 per cent said they wanted the wage floors brought back so that they aren’t paid less than 75 per cent of the average for their role, while only one percent believed it was acceptable for people to be receiving significantly below the average in pay and benefits for their role.

The survey also made clear that members have had enough of real-terms pay cuts over the years – 80 per cent believed they deserved a pay rise of between 5 and 16 per cent.

 While the pay data secured through the historic CAC ruling will be vital in the fight for fair pay at Fujitsu, Unite reps told us that it is just as important that staff who aren’t already Unite members join, and those who are members become more active in the union.

“The success of our pay campaign is absolutely dependent on strength in numbers,” the rep said. “Although the company has tried to obscure this fact, Fujitsu colleagues in Manchester have better pay and conditions than Fujitsu staff elsewhere in the UK because Unite is recognised at the site in Manchester. Union recognition – and high membership density as a whole – will make a huge difference in improving pay and conditions for all staff.”

By Hajera Blagg