Intolerance: Pay Inequality Pay-Outs From Council Tax

Scotland's 'Local Authorities' are facing a massive bill to settle thousands of equal pay claims from women workers. More than 50_000 female 'Council' employees -- including cleaners, clerical staff, care assistants and catering workers -- will be eligible for payments averaging 15_000_GBP each, legal experts said yesterday. Councils in the north-east of England & Wales have already paid out 75_million_GBP after claims involving 8_000 women workers. In 1999, most councils in that region signed equal pay agreements, but they failed to implement them. The 'Action 4 Equality' campaign, which has also won settlements at employment tribunals, is now heading to Scotland. But last night the leader of Scotland's 32 councils attacked the English legal firm which is pioneering the aggressive new 'no win, no fee' approach to equality cases in Scotland. Mr.Pat Watters, the president of 'The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' ('COSLA'), said:
'The people who will get rich with this will not be the workers, but the lawyers negotiating the claims.'
But Mr.Mark Irvine, a former chief negotiator for the union 'Unison in Scotland' who has set up 'The Action 4 Equality' campaign to take on the claims, angrily denied Mr.Watters's accusation, attacking the trades unions for failing their members. Mr.Irvine has joined forces with Mr.Stefan Cross, a lawyer from the north-east of England, who discovered that women were classified as being on the same pay scales as men, even though they were not in the same jobs. In one example, cleaners were put on the same pay grades as binmen, but, because of bonus schemes, the refuse workers ended up being paid far more. Mr.Cross persuaded the women workers to take their cases to employment tribunals. As he began to win cases, many councils decided not to defend the cases and made payouts to their women workers, backdated up to six years. Last month, 'Newcastle City Council' came to an agreement with trade unions which will benefit 2_800 workers, including cleaners and care-at-home staff. 'Gateshead', 'Durham City', 'Sunderland', 'South Tyneside' and 'North Tyneside' have also been forced to make multi-million-pound payouts. In Scotland, 'The Statute of Limitations' means that female workers will only be able to back-date claims by five years but Mr.Irvine believes that there are at least 50_000 of them who could make claims. 'Action 4 Equality' will get 10 per cent of the money the workers win -- not the 20 per cent Mr.Watters claimed -- but be paid nothing if it loses.Mr.Watters said:
'Action 4 Equality is a not a charity organisation but is there to make money, 20 per cent will be "creamed off" right away for the lawyers. 'What it is making right now off the backs of workers is millions of pounds.'
But Mr.Irvine hit back, describing Mr.Watters's argument as 'silly'. Mr.Irvine added:
'So far there has not been a single successful claim in Scotland. 'The "lion's share" of the money will go to those who we help make the claims. 'Many of these people are trades union members who have paid, between them, millions of pounds to their unions and have nothing to show for it. 'Trades unions are not a charity either. 'They are supposed to be doing a job for their members. 'After all this time, people deserve more than just "windy rhetoric" and "empty promises". 'The negotiating process is "stuck in the doldrums" and has failed to "close the pay gap" since 1999. 'After all these years, low-paid workers are still waiting for equal pay and the way forward is for them to take "direct action" through the courts.'
He said that the new group would 'give public service workers a real choice -- one that's open to union members and non-members alike'. Mr.Irvine added:
'Low-paid workers have everything to gain and nothing to lose. 'We will provide the legal clout to make sure that public sector employers deliver on equal pay for thousands of part-time and full-time workers across Scotland.'
Mr.Cross added:
'In 1999, councils in Scotland signed a "single status" agreement which was designed to eliminate these pay differences, but six years on no real progress has been made and the employees involved are "kept in the dark" about their employment rights, while effectively being asked to subsidise the pay of their better-paid colleagues.'
Yesterday Mr.Watters was forced to admit that the bill for 'Local Authorities' in relation to the pay claims would reach 500_million_GBP. He added that money to pay the claims would have to come from council-tax payers unless 'The Scottish Executive' could be persuaded to help fill the funding gap. A spokesman for 'COSLA' added that the 'confrontational legal route' may not be the way to solve the disputes as discussions were being focused on 'sensible outcomes which deliver fairness for our workers whilst not jeopardising the delivery of the high-quality services both the local government workforce and employers are so rightly proud of'. She added: 'The experience in England has been that some inequality has been demonstrated and recognised through financial compensation.' 'COSLA', which claims to be under financial pressure from 'The Scottish Executive', fears that these claims could increase the pressure on its budget and is prepared to ask ministers for more money to meet the claims. 'COSLA' was last night stressing that councils support the idea of wage equality. A spokesman for 'The Scottish Executive' said:
'This is a matter which should be settled between the workers and their employers, the councils.'
'Equal pay failing may cost councils £500m', Peter Macmahon, The Scotsman, 2005-08-16


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the final quote puts the cost firmly into the council tax payers' area. This is a disgrace, if everyone was paid equally and fairly then we would not be looking at half a billion settlements. Grrrrrrr!

8/22/2005 12:28:00 am  

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