Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Scottish Elections

A lot of interest has been shown in the earlier posting about the forthcoming Scottish elections -for MSPs and local councillors - which take place on the same day this year, May 3rd 2007.

A typical query has been: "How do I raise these issues with my own MSP or local councillor?"

Well, that's very easy to answer. MSPs and local councillors both hold regular surgeries - often on the same day of the month - where local constituents can go along and raise issues, in person, at a private meeting.

MSPs and councillors are normally happy to meet with people in small groups and this would be an ideal way of getting across the message on equal pay - a list of useful questions has already been posted on this site.

Not surprisingly, in the run-up to the elections, politicians are much more interested in what people have to say - after all they're desperate for your votes. And, of course, the press and media are more likely to report what's being said - by the politicians and the electorate alike.

A letter to your local paper is a good way to get your point across and will help generate interest. You might even go along to one of the public meetings ('hustings') where the politicians debate the issues of the day and are required to answer questions - in front of a local audience.

The press and media will be quick to highlight issues that build up a head of steam - especially if they could influence the outcome of the election in a particular area.

A rather intruiging idea is that Action 4 Equality should consider standing 'Equal Pay' candidates in key target areas for the council and Scottish Parliament elections.

For example, in Glasgow, the obvious choice would be to stand someone in the Glasgow Cathcart seat of former Council Leader - Charlie Gordon - as he was in office throughout the period when the employers and the unions deliberately ignored their obligations to deliver equal pay for women workers.

Another possibility would be to stand a candidate in the Glasgow Blairdardie seat of the present Council Leader, Steven Purcell who has presided over the Council's recent Pay and Benefits review - which protects the much higher earnings of the men, yet still allows widespread pay discrimination to take place. So, thousands of women workers continue to lose out.

Interestingly, both Charlie Gordon and Steven Purcell are members of the GMB union - a key council union along with the TGWU and Unison. Now you'd think the GMB would get stuck into the council for its terrible track record on equal pay by:

  • Campaigning hard and lobbying the politicians
  • Educating their members and creating a storm in the press and media
  • Explaining - instead of concealing - the size of the pay gap for women workers
  • Asking publicly why union members should support politicians who have let them down so badly over equal pay?

But instead, the GMB (along with the other unions) are far happier cosying up to the politicians, playing the game, ducking the awkward questions - and ultimately betraying their own members.

Both Charlie Gordon and Steven Purcell are easy to contact by e-mail:

Charlie Gordon can be reached at:
Steven Purcell can be reached at:

Standing candidates in the Scottish Parliament and local elections seems rather far-fetched and a bit unlikely at this stage, but who knows? Single issue candidates have done remarkably well in recent years and sometimes - just sometimes - things can catch fire if the right issue comes along at the right time.

If there are a a few willing volunteers and some people to lend a hand, equal pay is the kind of issue that could take off and force the politicians to sit up, take notice and think twice about behaving in such a cavalier fashion in future.

Most of the Labour politicians are union members and rely heavily on union support, they wear their political hearts on their sleeves and regard themselves as left wing and very progressive. So, if you are a union member, campaigning inside your own trade union is important as well.

To be fair, the Labour politicians are not the only ones in the frame - they may control the big councils (Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Fife), but the SNP (in Falkirk and Angus councils) and the Liberal Democrats (in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils) are culpable as well.

But whatever the party they have no answers on equal pay and cannot explain why they have all been prepared to turn a blind eye to something that has been staring them in the face for all these years.

Standing equal pay candidates in the elections is a long-shot at this stage - but just raising the possibility will hold the politicians to account. For example, we have already made contact with the Scottish Pensioners Party about exposing the scandalous way retired women workers have been treated - allowed to retire without any knowledge of their rights to equal pay and now living on much lower pensions than their male counterparts.

So, getting involved does make a difference and will change things for the better. Let's hear your ideas for turning the political heat up between now and 3rd May!

Friday, 16 February 2007

Scottish Parliament and equal pay

In an earlier posting we promised to share details of the politicians who had a major responsibility on equal pay since 1999 and who will be standing for election to the Scottish Parliament May 2007 - they deserve to be asked some tough questions.

Charlie Gordon
Labour party candidate for the seat of Glasgow Cathcart
Former leader of Glasgow City Council - Scotland's largest council - and a member of the GMB union. The GMB ( along with other unions) has kept their members in the dark about their rights to equal pay for years - deliberately hiding the huge pay gap between male and female workers - rates of pay which the unions know about because they negotiated these rates with the employers.

Donald Anderson
Labour party candidate for the seat of Edinburgh South
Former leader of Edinburgh City Council - union membership or affiliation unknown. Donald has taken a keen interest the employment practices of other employers - for example, by castigating the Scottish Executive for moving civil service jobs away of Edinburgh - pity he didn't pay the same attention to his own backyard and equal pay.

Norman Murray
Labour party candidate for the seat of Edinburgh East and Musselburgh
Leader of East Lothian Council and former activist with the PCS union. Norman was the President of CoSLA during the crucial period between 1999 - 2001. As the umbrella body for the Scottish council employers, CoSLA had a duty to show leadership and whip individual councils into line - after they signed up to equal pay in 1999 - but as things turned out not even Norman's own council (East Lothian) honoured the agreement.

Christine May
Labour party candidate for the seat of Fife Central
Former leader of Fife Council and a member of the TGWU union. As one of Scotland's few women council leaders, arguably, Christine had a special responsibility to do the right thing on equal pay. Yet, Fife is just as bad as all the rest - and to make matters worse they are now trying to impose a new 'unequal' pay contract, despite the workforce voting this down in a secret ballot. The council is ignoring a democratic vote and the unions' (including the TGWU) are deliberately looking the other way.

At election time, all politicians across all parties will say that they support equal pay - no one would be daft enough to say anything else when they are desperately seeking your vote.

The more important question is what our putative MSPs think of the mess that both the employers and unions have made of things over the past 8 years - and what have they been doing during that time to stand up for the rights of low paid women workers?

Here are a few questions for candidates that will put them on the spot:

As a former council leader why did you not ensure full implementation of the equal pay (Single Status) agreement in 1999 ?

Do you agree that workers should not be pressurised and bullied into accepting partial compensation payments over equal pay?

Do you agree that the unions have deliberately kept their own members in the dark about the size of the pay gap between a care worker and a refuse worker, for example, or a trained nurse and an NHS tradesman?

Do you agree that the thousands of people who have retired since 1999 should be compensated in full for their losses?

What recent public statements have you made on equal pay and what stance would you take if elected as an MSP?

There are lots of other candidates standing for the Scottish Parliament who arguably merit a mention - all suggestions welcome - watch this space for further details!

North Lanarkshire Council

All of Scotland's 32 local councils have behaved appallingly over equal pay, but undoubtedly the Dunce's Cap should be awarded jointly to the management and trade unions in North Lanarkshire Council.

First of all, the council agreed a Job Evaluation scheme with the trade unions, but then they both refused to share the details with the workforce. So, exactly how were staff expected to have any confidence in the outcome, especially if they could not see or understand the scores and how the new grading structure rewarded different groups of workers? Maybe they were supposed to to take it on trust from the same people who had kept them in the dark for all those years.

Then the council put the scheme to the workforce in a democratic ballot - a wizard idea supported by the best brains amongst the unions. However, things did not go according to plan and to the enormous shock of the council and the unions, the ordinary union members very sensibly voted the package down - and by an absolutely overwhelming majority.

Next the council made one-off 'buy-out' offers to sections of the workforce - some but not all of the manual workers - although these compensation payments were just about the lowest across the whole of Scotland, and simply added insult to injury.

Soon afterwards, the council decided just to ignore the workforce ballot that it was so keen to hold only a few months before - on the basis that it would impose the new pay and grading structure by issuing staff with new contracts of employment. Many people on the ground believe this was done with the unions tacit approval because the unions certainly did little to stop the council in its tracks.

Needless to say, the unions went along with the general strategy and effectively did the council's dirty work by failing to give their members proper advice or support at crucial times - which is why so many of them decided to pursue and equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.

Now, as so often happens in life, things have come full circle and finally, if very belatedly, the unions have at last seen the error of their ways. Unison is now advising members of their rights to take up an equal pay claim - albeit 7 years too late.

A letter from the local Unison branch secretary (Caroline Llewellyn) dated 2 February 2007 advises members that they have 6 months from 6 November 2006 (the date of the new North Lanarkshire contract) to register an equal pay claim. The letter is not terribly enthusiastic, it has to be said, and deliberately puts the onus on individual members to decide whether they have an equal pay claim - instead of the union explaining the size and nature of the pay gap with the men - which the unions' know fine well because they negotiated these pay agreements with North Lanarkshire Council.

Instead of offering leadership, advice and practical help the letter goes on to detail a long and bureaucratic procedure for members to follow in submitting a claim, which seems designed to make life difficult for ordinary members with no experience of dealing with such issues.

However, this letter simply begs the question: "Why did the Unison North Lanarkshire Branch not issue this advice to members in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. 2005 and 2006?"

The unions failure to act has cost its low paid members dearly - and that's why so many are now suing for the money they've lost through their unions negligence and incompetence.

In addition, many hundreds of workers either left or retired from the North Lanarkshire Council during the past 8 years. Sadly, these individuals have lost the right to register an equal pay claim because of the 6 month time limit. But if they were union members at the time, they can raise a claim against their trade union for failing to give them proper advice!

So, justice may be done after all.

A North Lanarkshire client has been in touch to ask how the council and the unions (especially Unison) could make such a pig's ear of equal pay, when its very experienced personnel chief (Iris Wylie) was the former long-time partner of no less a figure than MIke Kirby, Unison's Scottish Convener for the past 14 years?

A very good question.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

A Case Study

Home Care Coordinators play a vital role in delivering essential support services to thousands of elderly and vulnerable clients in Glasgow.

The job was created several years ago to support the role of the Home Carer. Coordinators have all the necessary hands on skills, but also supervise groups of Home Carers and provide much needed practical help in resolving many of the 101 things that can go wrong in the course of a normal working day.

For taking on these additional responsibilities Home Care Coordinators were paid the princely sum of £1 an hour extra on top of the rate paid to Home Carers - and both were hugely underpaid in comparison to many unskilled male workers in Glasgow earning more than £10 per hour - while the Home Carers and Coordinators hourly rates were nearer £6 and £7 respectively.

No one pointed out this blatant and completely unjustified discrimination out to the women workers, of course. Not the Labour council - and not the GMB union which negotiated these rates of pay for both male and female workers. So, ignorance of what was going on cannot possibly be argued on behalf the unions, though this does beg the obvious question:

What were the women members paying their union contributions for during all that time?

In 2005, when Action 4 Equality came along and explained things to the women workers - all hell broke loose, so to speak. The council and the unions blamed each other, but the bottom line was they would put things right and ensure that in future all jobs were paid on a fair and proper basis - discrimination would be a thing of the past.

However, they said exactly the same thing in 1999 - and then just sat on their backsides for the next six years.

Glasgow City Council has now carried out a Job Evaluation exercise (which they call a Pay and Benefits Review), but significantly this is not the one that Glasgow and all the other council employers agreed to use as part of the original 1999 Single Status Agreement.

In fact, Glasgow has just gone off and made up its very own Job Evaluation scheme, on the back of a old fag packet it would appear, since the scheme is full of problems and pay discrimination is as rife as ever.

Home Care Coordinators, for example, have been put on exactly the same grade and rate of pay as the Home Carers - so their additional supervisory responsibilities have not been taken into account, and their pay is the same as the people they supervise!

The plain truth is that Glasgow's Job Evaluation scheme has deliberately failed to assess a vital part of these jobs - as if the supervisory element never existed at all. This would never happen to one of the traditional male dominated jobs, which have all been treated very differently.

The council is now apparently saying to the Home Care Coordinators - take it or leave it! - which sounds very much like an organisation that needs to get in touch with its feminine side. The craven GMB does not have very much to say for itself, but the union knows fine well that male jobs elsewhere in the council have not been dealt with in this way.

The good news is that the Home Care Coordinators don't need to rely on the council or the unions doing the right thing - they haven't for years, so why would they start now? The best response is for people to:

  1. Keep doing the job the way it has been done for years
  2. Submit a local job evaluation appeal
  3. Pursue an equal pay claim, if you haven't done so already
  4. Register a separate claim about the union's failure to advise or represent you properly
Home Care Coordinators are not alone - there are lots of skilled women workers in Glasgow who continue to be paid much less than unskilled male workers.

Before the council's pay and benefits review lots of unskilled male workers in Glasgow were paid over £10 per hour or @ £20,000 a year - while the women's jobs were typically paid around £6 or £7 per hour or @ £15,000 a year.

After the council's pay and benefits review the position is just the same - jobs done traditionally by women are still at the bottom of the heap, traditonal male jobs are still much better paid (over £10 per hour or @ £20,000 a year) and this situation will continue for years to come!

Home Carers, Residential Carers, Cooks, Catering Assistants, Cleaners, Clerical Workers, Pupil Support Assistants, Child Development Officers (Nursery Nurses) - all continue to have substantial claims for equal pay with the men.

Councillors salaries and 'golden goodbyes'

The press and media have been awash with comment this week about our elected local councillors receiving big pay increases this year, while others are to receive 'Golden Goodbyes' for agreeing not to stand in the next council elections due on May 3rd 2007.

A new scheme will pay existing councillors, who agree to step down, up to £20,000 (tax free) - the payment is intended as compensation for all the years that these councillors worked without proper salaries or access to pension benefits. The cost of the severance package in Glasgow alone has been estimated at £420,000

From May 3rd 2007 onwards all of the remaining or new local councillors will benefit substantially from the introduction of a new basic salary of £15,452 a year, rising to £46,357 a year for the leaders of the largest councils - in the fair cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Now there are different views on how generous or otherwise these new arrangements really are. Some commentators say they don't go far enough, while others are horrified at the cost to the public purse. You pay your money and take your choice.

But one thing's for certain - you can bet your house that the our elected local councillors will be taking nothing less than every last penny that they are entitled to claim!

How different from the advice given to low paid women workers - who have been pressurised and bullied into accepting partial, one-off 'buy-outs' of their equal pay claims - instead of real pay parity with the men.

As the old saying goes: "What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander".

So, don't let any councillor - past or present - tell you that you're not entitled to the proper rate for the job.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Holding our politcians to account

Equal pay is one of the biggest issues to hit Scotland's public services in recent years - yet our elected councillors and MSPs have been a quiet as church mice.

Why? Because many of them were in very senior and influential positions years ago when Scotland's councils, for example, promised to eradicate pay discrimination back in 1999. But the employers and the trade unions simply sat back and did nothing until Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross came along.

So, the politicians prefer to turn a blind eye to the widespread pay discrimination that still exists in Scotland's councils and the NHS - and in any event they can always blame someone else for the failure to put things right.Whatever this is it's not leadership - and the truth is that Scotland's public service workers deserve a great deal better.

On almost any other issue, the politicians would be asking pointed questions and demanding straight answers.

Why did the employers and the unions sit on their backsides for so long?

Why do the employers try to cheat people out of the back pay they are entitled to receive?

Why do the trade unions keep their own members in the dark on equal pay?

Why are the thousands of people who have retired since 1999 not compensated for their loss?

Why are the employers and unions still trying to hide the size of the pay gap for women workers?

Without Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross the scandal of widespread pay discrimination would be exactly the same today. No one would have been offered a single penny in compensation - not even those who have been bullied and pressurised into accepting partial compensation payments, instead of the same pay as the men

The Scottish Parliament and Scotland's councils are up for election on the same day this year - May 3rd 2007. So, when the politicians come looking for your vote - ask them where they stand on equal pay and ask them exactly what they have been doing to hold Scotland's council and NHS employers to account!

In a future posting we'll list the details of all the MSPs who were senior councillors or trade union officials back in 1999 - should make interesting reading.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Appeals - union advice and support

Lots of people have been on touch to say that some local union reps are not being very helpful when it comes to Job Evaluation appeals - see previous posting dated 29 January 2007.

The plain truth is that the trade unions are going to be in a lot of trouble if they take money from their members in union contributions, but then fail to provide the service and support that members are entitled to expect.

The trade unions are annoyed that so many of their members have taken up claims with Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross, but that is not a valid reason for refusing to provide individual members with advice and representation, if requested, especially at the workplace.

A local Job Evaluation grading appeal is an internal matter to the council and very often the trade unions are the only bodies recognised by the council employers for dealing with such matters. So the trade unions owe a duty of care to their members, which they cannot ignore just because some of the officials are in a giant huff.

If you are being given the run around by an unhelpful local union rep, you should consider writing a letter to a senior official along the following lines:

Dear GMB, TGWU or Unison

Local Grading Appeal

I am having some difficulty in getting support from the GMB, TGWU or Unison (insert appropriate union) in connection with a local Job Evaluation grading appeal.

If I am denied basic representation at work, I have to say I would regard this as being penalised and disciplined by my own trade union, but without good cause or due process.

I would, therefore, like you to confirm that I am entitled to advice and representation in this matter, as a union member of good standing and one who is not in breach of any union rule.

If you fail to provide me with the support and advice that union members are entitled to expect under the union rule book, I will consider taking further action to protect my interests, which might include, for example, making a formal complaint to the Certification Officer.

I look forward to your reply

Yours sincerely

A Member

The regional secretaries of the three main unions in Scotland are:

Harry Donaldson
Regional Secretary
Fountain House
Charing Cross
G3 7UJ

Mike Brider
Regional Secretary
290 Bath Street
G2 4LD

Matt Smith
Regional Secretary
14 West Campbell Street
G2 6RX

New council 'buy-out' offers

Some councils - North Ayrshire, for example - are making new 'buy-out' offers to staff in a desperate attempt to stop people from submitting fresh equal pay claims.

These new 'buy-out' offers follow exactly the same pattern as before - they are not delivering equal pay, but are based on a one-off payment and still leaves the women workers with a lower rate of pay than the men - whose earnings are protected for years to come.

The council are simply cheating people - and paying much less than their claims are really worth. How much depends on individual circumstances and the council involved, but in some cases the amount on offer represents less than 20% of the true value of people's claims - since the councils make a great saving by leaving out overtime and pension payments.

The reason for this latest panic is that the Compromise Agreements (COT3) which people were forced to sign in the first round of 'buy-out' payments were only valid for a fixed period of time. Many of these have now expired and the good news is that everyone involved can start a new equal pay claim from the expiry date onwards.

The Compromise Agreement dates vary from Council to council, but here are a some examples:

Aberdeenshire Council - January 2007
East Ayrshire Council - July 2006
East Lothian Council - July 2006
East Renfrewshire Council - July 2006
Edinburgh City Council - October 2006
Falkirk Council - December 2006
Fife Council - October 2006
Glasgow City Council - December 2005
Midlothian Council - April 2006
North Lanarkshire Council - October 2006
Renfrewshire Council - April 2006
South Ayrshire Council - May 2006
West Dunbartonshire Council - April 2006
West Lothian Council - February - 2007

The councils promised to have equal pay sorted out by these dates, but as usual failed to do what they said they would do - and as usual the unions have failed to explain what's going on to their members, or to inform them that they have fresh and substantial claims.

So, anyone who was pressurised into accepting a settlement first time around can submit a new claim from these dates - based on equal pay - not a council 'buy-out' which cheats people out of the full back pay they are entitled to receive.

NHS - latest news

A Case Management hearing for the NHS Equal Pay claims is due to be held on 1 March 2007, but don't expect fireworks from day one - this is really just the start of the formal process for NHS cases in Scotland.

A Case Management hearing should set out a timetable for dealing with the NHS cases and involves the appointment of an independent expert to consider the equal value side of the claim, i.e. whether a fully trained, highly qualified nurse is doing a job of equal value to a hospital tradesman or technician. See the detailed posting on Agenda for Change

In other walks of life, this is a 'no brainer' question - but even though the answer is perfectly obvious to anyone with any common sense it is an essential part of the employment tribunal process, which all claims must go through to be successful.

So, while this will take some time to complete, the good news is that you add the time on to your claim going forward. For example, if it takes a person with a five year back pay claim another 18 months to complete the employment tribunal process, then that person will have a total claim for at least 6.5 years. And it will also have to be factored into pension contributions since the NHS operates a final salary scheme.

So, there's a great deal at stake and much to play for!

NHS - Agenda for Change

Scotland's spending on the NHS has doubled in the past 10 years - but the big winners have been the medical staff (especially consultants and GP's) because the pay gap with nurses and other health professionals is greater than ever!

The truth is that the NHS has been discriminating against its female staff for decades. This equal pay gap has been widely known (to the employers and trade unions) since 1997 when the first large scale claims were made in Cumbria.

The Cumbria claims established that nursing assistants were doing jobs of equal value to male maintenance workers, but the men were getting paid £4,000 more than the (largely female) nurses. Similarly, highly qualified nurses were earning less than the male electronics technicians - and medical secretaries less then male painters and joiners.

In 2005, the NHS agreed to compensate some of the Cumbria staff with some nurses being paid over £100,000 in back pay. Despite knowing that these cases were likely to succeed, from at least 2001, the trade unions kept silent and failed to inform their members of their rights.

Instead, the trade unions entered into secret negotiations with the employers and agreed to Agenda for Change - rather than pay parity with the male workers.

Agenda for Change has been sold as dealing with Equal Pay, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a mechanism for protecting the men's pay and avoiding equal pay claims.

For example, a D Grade nurse was held to be of equal value to an electronics technician (Grade MTO 3). Yet health boards are now banding nurses only on Band 5 while placing the men on Band 6 or even Band 7.

So, the Agenda for Change banding system is effectively preserving the 'status quo' and a pay differential of £10,000 per year - even though the nurse has higher qualifications and much more day to day responsibility!

Action 4 Equality believes that the present pay structures are crazy - because they pay NHS tradesmen more than fully trained, highly qualified nurses and other health professionals.

And pay discrimination goes right to the top of the nursing grades - because every hospital tradesman has a foreman, the foreman has a supervisor and the supervisor has a manager - all the way up the line. With each level paying £4,000 - £5,000 more than the one below - this means that people looking after NHS property are being paid more than the staff caring for patients.

So, even senior nurses with years of additional specialist training are being paid less than junior managers who get paid £35,000 pa for looking after the hospital buildings. And what's worse is that these pay differences have been around for years - long after the introduction of the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

How crazy is that?

The reality is that the trade unions have become part of the NHS establishment - they are slow to support their members and are just meekly going along with out of date, discriminatory pay practices in the NHS and elsewhere.

Action 4 Equality says that the NHS priorities are all wrong. Change is long overdue and the best way to achieve change is by

  1. Appealing your Agenda for Change grade
  2. Pursuing an Equal Pay claim to the Employment Tribunals

With several years back pay nurses on E and F grades could have claims worth well over £30,000 - even more if you work shifts. Midwives are often given Band 7 under Agenda for Change, but with male comparators earning £10,000 more - these claims are worth over £50,000.

In the meantime, it's essential that nurses do not simply accept their low bandings under Agenda for Change. You should appeal and seek a review - especially nurses on Band 5.

Our message to nurses and other health professionals is simple:

Action 4 Equality - gets the job done

Agenda for Change - means more empty promises

If you need more detailed advice, contact Mark Irvine and Action 4 Equality on 0131 667 7956