Sunday, 28 September 2008

Falkirk Council

The recent CMD hearing involving Falkirk Council did not produce the timetable we were seeking - for these cases to be resolved.

Instead, the hearing on 18 September 2008 dealt mainly with an ongoing argument about Falkirk Council's job evaluation scheme - and concerns about its fairness or otherwise - but there is likely to be a further CMD hearing before the end of the year.

At that stage we will again be pressing for a firm timetable to be set - to deal with all outstanding claims.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Council Workers Strike (3)

Yesterday's strike action appears set to rumble on for a while yet - with the focus shifting to 'selective' strikes amongst small groups within individual councils.

If so, this is the first big sign of weakness from the union side - because it confirms that ordinary union members don't have the stomach for more days of 'all out' action - and the loss of earnings that will inevitably result.

But moving to 'selective' action is not a good sign (for the unions at least) - because the issue will now disappear off the radar screen and support for any kind of strike action will slowly run out of steam.

So, not much of a strategy there from the trade unions - who just keep repeating their demands for a 5% or £1,000 pay rise (whichever is greater) - knowing full well that the council employers are never going to meet these terms.

Meanwhile, the council employers feel confident enough to declare that the trade unions need a reality check - if the dispute is to be settled by negotiation: "Wake up and smell the coffee", their spokesperson says.

Without an outbreak of common sense - and a display of leadership on the union side - the whole sorry business could indeed drag on for weeks yet.

But the solution is there for all to see - repackage the offer and do a deal that helps protect the lower paid.

Monday, 22 September 2008

No Mean City

Glasgow is home to Scotland's largest council.

So, not surprisingly perhaps, Glasgow was the first council in Scotland to come up with a strategy for dealing with its employees equal pay claims.

At first, the council said there was no problem - but that position quickly changed as Action 4 Equality Scotland set about explaining the huge pay gap that existed - between traditional male and female jobs.

All hell broke loose - to coin a phrase - as claims flooded in from angry women workers - who had been kept in the dark for years about their rights to equal pay.

Soon afterwards, Glasgow came up with a plan to 'buy out' their employees claims - with one-off cash offers of settlement - in the run up to Christmas 2005.

A series of 'acceptance' meetings was hastily organised across the city - their purpose being to encourage low paid staff to accept the council's offer of settlement - and to sign a Compromise Agreement waiving their legal rights. However, the basis for calculating these offers was never explained.

The council also arranged for 'independent' lawyers to be on hand to give advice to council staff - although Glasgow City Council selected and paid these lawyers, handsomely as it turns out.

In response to a recent Freedom of Information request - Glasgow has now confirmed what this 'independent' legal advice cost the council taxpayer:

A WHOPPING GREAT £347,477.76p - to be precise.

Funny how councils can always find the money for some things - but not others.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Falkirk Council

A Case Management Discussion (CMD) on the Falkirk cases is taking place at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal next Thursday - 18 September 2008.

The council lost an earlier Pre-Hearing Review - the tribunal agreeing with our view that all home care workers had been graded under the old Green Book and the former manual workers job evaluation scheme.

The council's argument that a previous reorganisation of the service had muddied the waters over people's grades - was firmly rejected by the tribunal.

So, the road is now clear for these cases to proceed to a GMF hearing - and that's what we'll be pushing for next week.

Anyone who is a party to the Falkirk claims is entitled to attend the hearing in Glasgow - which is scheduled to get underway around 10am.

West Dunbartonshire

West Dunbartonshire continues to be a hotbed of activity - with many people understandably up in arms about the council going back on its word to backdate the outcome of the Job Evaluation (JE) exercise.

The council is making a big play of its 'generous' proposal to pay £1500 - to employees who agree to accept the new pay and grading arrangements on a voluntary basis - but this offer is really a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Why? Because this payment - a 'realignment' payment, so-called by the council - is essentially trying to persuade people to agree to a change of contract - and aims to discourage employees from pursuing an equal pay claim to the Employment Tribunals.

Many former APT&C employees - groups like clerical workers and possibly classroom assistants - have just as valid equal pay claims as former manual workers - see post dated 2 September 2008 for a more detailed explanation.

But the council is making offers of settlement only to the former manual worker groups - and hoping that the rest of the workforce won't notice what's going on.

So, the best thing that the former APT&C groups can do is to bang in an equal pay claim - which will compare their earnings with those of male dominated groups within the council - such as refuse workers and gardeners - because these male jobs are traditionally much better paid.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Going Nowhere - Fast

Surprise, surprise - the trade unions have called another one day strike on Wednesday 24 September.

Apparently, at a 'negotiating' meeting during the week, the trade unions simply re-stated their original pay demand - i.e. for an annual 5% or £1,000 across the board pay increase, whichever figure is the higher.

And in response the employers simply repeated their offer of a 2.5% increase, but dropped their earlier proposal for a 3 year pay deal.

Now negotiations are not rocket science, but to be successful they must be :

a) realistic
b) based on some sort of sensible compromise - on give and take

Simply re-hashing what's been said before is not negotiating seriously with the employers - it's the industrial relations equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall.

Except it's the ordinary union members who are paying the price - through lost wages and no longer-term return.

The employers are never going to agree an across the board 5% or £1,000 pay increase in the current economic climate - there's not a cat in hell's chance of the trade unions' demands being met.

So, it's incumbent on the unions to negotiate - to spell out what they will settle for in the circumstances - instead of calling pointless strike after pointless strike.

What the unions could do is to propose a pay deal that's weighted in favour of the lowest paid - now that would be leadership from the unions - and could wring some important concessions out of the employers.

Or the unions could take their claim to independent and binding arbitration - although it does have to be said that involving a third party in pay disputes is never popular with the side that has the weaker hand.

But what is clear is that further strike action is just asking ordinary unions members to throw good money after bad.

Not to mention the huge problems caused to the general public - who are also having to cope with the effects of rampant food and fuel inflation.

Strikes have their place - even in this day and age - but this one's going nowhere - fast.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

West Dunbartonshire - Latest

West Dunbartonshire's equal pay antics are not for the faint hearted.

The various twists and turns of recent weeks make it extremely difficult for anyone to follow what's going on - but perhaps that's exactly what council intends.

In May 2008 West Dunbartonshire set aside £21 million to cover its equal pay obligations - but then the council decided that additional and un-costed trade union proposals added another £6 million to the bill - which couldn't be met from existing budgets, so the deal was off.

In August 2008 the council considered a special report on equal pay - which criticised the trade unions for pushing a negotiating agenda that favoured traditional male groups - at the expense of their female members.

The council went on to agree that instead of spending £21 million (as originally proposed) - that only £14 million would be committed to sorting out equal pay.

£7 million has been set aside to meet the costs of the protection period - i.e. a second buy-out for employees (mainly former Manual Workers) who have already signed a Compromise Agreement.

A further £7 million has also been earmarked to meet the cost of 'goodwill' payments to staff who accept the changes on a voluntary basis - i.e. mainly former APT&C staff who have an claim for equal pay - but who have not been made a settlement offer or signed a Compromise Agreement.

But the fact is that both groups are likely to gain by pursuing an equal pay claim to the Employment Tribunals - because for most people the council's offer of settlement is worth much less than the real value of people's claims.

If the council disputes what we are saying - all they have to do is to explain how their offers are being calculated - we'll even help them out by publishing the details on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.

But far from giving people what they're due - the council is actually trying to spend only £14 million of the £21 million set aside for equal pay only a few months ago.

The reality is that the workforce in West Dunbartonshire is being robbed collectively of at least £7 million (according to the council's own figures) - as the council goes back on its word to backdate the outcome of the Job Evaluation exercise.

So, if you want a fair outcome on equal pay, you should make a claim to the Employment Tribunals - the council and the trade unions have already shown why they can't be trusted to do the right thing.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New Equal Pay Claims

We are still receiving lots of enquiries about new equal pay claims.

North Lanarkshire is a hot spot for some reason - but requests continue to pour in from right across the country - so perhaps word is just spreading as things get back to normal after the summer holidays.

In any event, there have been hugely important equal pay developments in the Court of Appeal - the details of which were reported on this site in July and August - to catch up on all the latest news see posts dated 17th July and 2nd, 4th and 8th August 2008.

The upshot is that the Court of Appeal has opened the door for many new equal pay claims:
  1. for those who accepted a previous offer of settlement - who now have a new claim for the protection period

  2. for former APT&C employees - who can now compare their earnings to the much higher rates of pay enjoyed by many traditional male jobs

The employers won't explain the significance of these developments to their staff - and the unions are just keeping their heads down for reasons only they can explain - but they have a poor track record when it comes to standing up for their low paid women members.

So, if you need help or advice - or an application form - then contact Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0845 300 3 800 or drop Mark Irvine an e-mail at:

Monday, 1 September 2008

More Trade Union Shenanigans

West Dunbartonshire is under attack by many of its own staff - for going back on an earlier understanding with the trade unions to backdate the outcome of its Job Evaluation Scheme (JES).

So, those employees whose jobs have done comparatively well out of the JES - are now not going to receive the back pay (to 1 April 2006) that they had been led to expect - by both the council and the trade unions.

The whole business is still very confused - rather than explaining clearly what is going on and why - stories are appearing in the press that obscure as much as they reveal.

But it's not just the council that's been up to no good.

A recent council report is scathing in its criticism of the trades unions for pursuing a negotiating strategy that favoured traditional male jobs - witness the following extract:

"The Trade Union proposal in relation to Terms and Conditions may appear to support the reduction of inequalities for female staff but that is not necessarily the case. In some areas this proposal would simply maintain existing areas of long standing inequality and would have the effect of widening rather than narrowing the gender pay gap."

"There are concerns that the (Trade Union) proposals, particularly those related to overtime payments and payments for working public holidays, favour traditional male occupations which are generally full-time roles and are to the disadvantage of female staff the majority of whom work part time hours."

"They would appear to suffer direct discrimination arising from the widening pay gap in overall payment levels due to their lower base pay, and indirect discrimination due to their inability to access in practice some of these enhanced payments."

Sound familiar - trade unions trying to cut a more favourable deal for their male members?

The council has used these shenanigans as an excuse to pull out of negotiations - and they now look certain to impose agreement on the workforce over the heads of the trade unions.

We are still assessing West Dunbartonshire's position - but our advice to people is clear - you will only get what you are entitled to by pursuing an equal pay claim with the Employment Tribunals - relying on the council or the trade unions will only end in tears.

Midlothian Council

Midlothian Council is holding a series of staff consultation meetings this week - the purpose of which is to invite views on its proposed new pay and grading structure.

Now for consultation to be meaningful and genuine -the people doing the consulting have to listen and respond to what is said to them - in this case the council and its senior managers.

So, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage employees to attend one of these consultation meetings - and demand that everyone is provided with the scores that underpin the council's Job Evaluation Scheme (JES).

Up until now Midlothian Council has stubbornly refused to provide this information - even though it should be freely available.

As far as we know, Midlothian is the only council in the whole of Scotland that seems determined to keep employees firmly in the dark - when it comes to details of its JES.

Without the scores of all the different council posts - no one can have any confidence that the job evaluation exercise has been carried out fairly.

So, the council's talk about a new, modern and non-discriminatory pay and grading structure is just plain crazy - if senior managers are the only people who know how it works.

Our advice is simple - council employees should insist that they are provided with this information before things proceed any further - otherwise the consultation process is a farce.

If your request is denied, then complain - complain to your line manager, your local councillor, your MSP and MP - in writing, by e-mail or in person.

Because Midlothian Council will be in a position where it is having to defend the indefensible.