News & Views

Thousands take to the streets demanding settlement of equal pay claim

SO
BY Scott O'Connor
Employment law

Earlier this month, over 8000 Glasgow city council workers took to the streets in one of the biggest equal pay strikes the UK has ever seen. Cleaners and care workers took part in the 48-hour strike which closed schools and nurseries across the city. A large number of male refuse staff, street cleaners and road workers also refused to cross the picket line across the city in support of these female workers.

The aim of the strikes was to speed up the negotiation process between the unions and the Council following years of equal pay legal disputes. There has been 21 meetings held this year but no significant progress has been made.  The equal pay claims relate to a job evaluation scheme which was created specifically for the Council back in 2006. Somewhat ironically, the job evaluation scheme was created in response to a wave of equal pay awards.

As a result of the scheme’s design, mainly female workers in roles such as caterers, cleaners and care assistants, were paid less than their male counterparts in jobs that were deemed to be of equal value such as refuse collection. Additionally, the scheme included a three year protection for men who lost out on bonuses. Following two Court of Session decisions last year, thousands of staff will likely be entitled to a pay rise or back pay in compensation.

The strike ballots were a landslide; 99% of Unison members and 98% of GMB members were in favour of action. A large number of Claimants were also represented by Action 4 Equality Scotland who did not take part in the strikes. Susan Aitken, Glasgow City Council leader, has suggested there should be a settlement figure by the end of the year stating that the pay-outs will have a “very significant impact on the council” for years to come. Birmingham City Council was faced with a similar situation in 2013 and was forced to sell of the National Exhibition Centre to help pay its £1bn equal pay bill.

There are also lessons to be learned here in relation to the formulation of job evaluation schemes. When it comes to job evaluation schemes it would appear that the tried and tested methods are the best. The bespoke and untested nature of this job evaluation scheme caused a large part of the problem. This certainly seems to be a lesson that the Council has learned (the hard way) as a working group, made up of Council members and representatives from the Claimants’ unions, have been meeting twice monthly to put in place a new scheme. All of the new schemes put forward have been used previously by public bodies or private corportations.

If you have any questions relating to your job evaluation scheme and want to ensure that it is compliant with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, please get in touch with your dedicated advisor today.

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