Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Short History (21/05/13)

Professor Stephen Hawking, the incredibly brainy astro-physicist once wrote a book entitled 'A Brief History of Time' which I read with a great passion and interest, until my head hurt at least.

Now I can't compete with all of the mysteries of quantum mechanics and black holes unless I can offer South Lanarkshire Council as a 'black hole' when it comes to Freedom of Information, of course.

But I was sufficiently inspired by Stephen Hawking to write my own brief history once upon a time, albeit in on the subject of 'equal pay'.

So here it is for your information and interest: A Short History of Equal Pay.

A Short History of Equal Pay (July 2010) 

Action 4 Equality began its activities on equal pay in Scotland in August 2005, but before we arrived on the scene equal pay was dead a dead issue.

The landmark 1999 Single Status Agreement had still not been implemented in Scotland and had missed two implementation deadlines in 2002 and again 2004.No significant activity was taking place in the employment tribunals over equal pay.

The trade unions had always said that legal action against the employers would follow, if collective bargaining failed to deliver change, but nothing happened as the original agreement was allowed to slowly wither and die.

In reality, both the trade unions and the council employers lacked the political will to end the widespread pay discrimination in Scottish local government which they had both promised to sweep away in 1999.

In 2005 Action 4 Equality Scotland began to explain for the first time the huge pay gap between men and women’s jobs and the ability of women workers to pursue equal pay claims to the employment tribunals.

At first, the employers insisted that they had no equal pay issues, but as more and more employees voted with their feet by signing up with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

In response, the unions and employers hastily cobbled together a new National Framework Agreement issued as Scottish Joint Council Circular SJC/22 which recognised there were ‘many valid equal pay claims in the workforce’.

But exactly where had they been all this time?

The SJC circular proposed compensation payments ranging from a minimum of £6,937 to a maximum of £13,875 (based on 37 hours and a maximum of 5 years service). Significantly, these figures were agreed without consultation with union members or the wider workforce.

Yet, the original 1999 Single Status agreement was struck only after individual membership ballots in all three signatory trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite).So, the unions were effectively dancing to the employers' tune, but without a mandate from their members.

Glasgow City Council (Scotland’s largest council) led the way in making settlement offers to their employees in the form of one-off cash buy-outs which diluted even the proposals contained in circular SJC/22.

The employers refused to explain the basis of their offers but often they were worth much less than 50% of the real value of people’s claims in some cases around only 30%.

In every case where Action 4 Equality Scotland has achieved a settlement  the value of the Action 4 Equality Scotland settlement has been significantly higher than that proposed by the employers and trade unions under circular SJC/22.

The background to equal pay in Scotland should be seen in the context of a period of substantial growth - council budgets effectively doubled over the 10 years up to 2007/08.

Yet equal pay never became a big enough priority for the employers or the unions during this period, despite their alleged support for equal opportunities and equal pay.

The truth is that Action 4 Equality Scotland has been the catalyst for change and the great thing is that well over 100,000 low paid, predominantly female, council workers have benefited as a result.

Local Government and Equal Pay

Last year, the Scottish Parliament produced a report on equal pay - following a lengthy enquiry by the Local Government and Communities Committee (LGCC). More recently the committee invited further views - here's a summary of what I had to say.

"Dear Convener

Local Government and Equal Pay

I refer to your letter dated 15 April 2010.

Action 4 Equality Scotland, in conjunction with Fox Cross Solicitors, has negotiated settlements with several councils over the past six months and our experience is that employers are becoming much more willing to settle cases when faced with a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing.

A GMF hearing is where the employers have to explain, but also be able to justify their discriminatory pay practices. Because by the time a GMF hearing is held the pay gap between traditional male and female job groups has already been established as a matter of fact.

Faced with this situation at a GMF hearing, the employers, to be perfectly candid, have to either put up or shut up because there is nowhere left to hide.

Settlements in Glasgow City Council, North Ayrshire Council and Fife Councils followed once the GMF hearings were underway. In reality, the councils involved could all see which way these cases were going and, in the absence of any credible defences, they decided to settle on agreed terms rather than fight on all the way.

The City of Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire Councils have both followed suit - albeit on the eve of their respective GMF hearings.

The reluctance of the council employers to fight their cases all the way to an adjudicated settlement reflects the weakness of their case – both individually and collectively. If they had any realistic prospects of success, they would have soldiered on, but chose not to do so presumably based on their own legal advice and assessment of the risks involved.

As the Committee will recall, Action 4 Equality Scotland stated in its written and oral evidence last year that the legal issues involved in these cases are very clear and always have been since the Single Status Agreement was introduced in Scotland in 1999.

Sadly, the council employers refused to face up to their responsibilities and have dragged the process out to the detriment of thousands of low paid employees who should have benefited years ago from the introduction of Single Status.

The trade unions have had a major a role in this debacle and in the recent case involving Birmingham City Council, the trade unions admitted that they had been a barrier to change for many years. Ironically, the priority of the unions has always focused on defending the position of traditional male groups – rather than on improving the position of low paid women who make up the great majority of the workforce.

However, the Employment Tribunal in Birmingham in a landmark judgment decided that the employers are ultimately responsible for their own actions; they cannot hide behind the trade unions and use trade union intransigence as justification for widespread pay discrimination within the workforce.

Having worked closely with Scottish local government over the years, in my former role as Head of Local Government for Unions (Scotland), I would say that councils have been poorly served by COSLA's lack of leadership on equal pay. I attach a recent article from the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site – A Short History of Equal Pay – which committee members might find of interest.

As far as future settlements are concerned, I would observe that several councils have applied to the Scottish Government for additional borrowing consents to meet the back pay costs of equal pay. My view is that these councils should be closely monitored to assess what progress is being made to resolve their outstanding cases.

One employer does merit special mention, South Lanarkshire Council, which claims to have implemented the Single Status Agreement in 2004. But pay discrimination is still widespread in South Lanarkshire and predominantly female jobs remain stuck firmly at the bottom of the pay ladder. South Lanarkshire refuses to publish basic pay information to explain the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs. Because of the council’s refusal to behave openly and transparently 11 days were spent in the Employment Tribunals last year and a further 23 days have been set aside in 2010 – over what is essentially a very simple point.

Finally Action 4 Equality Scotland would be happy to attend any discussion – either at council level or Scotland wide – which is aimed at focusing on key strategic issues and potential test cases that could help speed the process up and bring the outstanding cases to a speedy conclusion.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine"