I'm proud of lots of things about A4ES and the fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils, one of them being the part I played in helping GMB members in North Lanarkshire.
Regular readers will recall that the GMB union had restricted its members equal pay claims to only three years and that when Labour-run North Lanarkshire finally sued for peace, the GMB's settlement offers were worth much less than those of A4ES clients.
Now the GMB blamed its lawyers and the lawyers blamed the GMB, but caught in the middle were a whole bunch of people who had been led to believe that their cases were in safe hands.
After a lot of 'argy bargy' the GMB sacked the old lawyers and appointed new solicitors, but in the process the union's regional secretary (Harry Donaldson) was stood down and hastily replaced.
I heard recently that the GMB members have finally received their settlements which have been dramatically improved from what was on offer first time around.
Not just that but the GMB settlement offers are being made on a pensionable basis following the successful challenge Action 4 Equality Scotland made to Scottish Ministers.
Here's what a couple of GMB members had to say:
I received my settlement money two weeks ago. And thanks to you and all our perseverance my offer was increased dramatically.
Your blogs and advice were a major part in us winning our fight and I for one am extremely grateful for all you have done for all of us.
Your very talented at your job.
Thank you very much. We couldn't have done it without you.
Just a note to say I've had my claim settled after the debacle by the GMB/Digby Brown!
I received a much improved offer and it's pensionable, so presumably i'll have my pension increased a bit and backdated to 2012
Thanks for your advice and support!
Well good for you!
Yes, your pension should be re-calculated and increased, but you may need to chase this up with the Council.
As you know the pensions issue was fought and won by Action 4 Equality Scotland with the unions giving their members poor advice that equal pay settlements were not pensionable.
But all's well that ends well, as they say.
Now although I played my part, the truth is that the people directly affected rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in as well and that's what's happening in Glasgow now as the focus shifts once again.
But the big lesson, as always, is that 'many hands make light work'.
North Lanarkshire Update (21/01/17)
I don't blow my own trumpet too often, but I think it's fair to say that I have played a crucial role in 'persuading' the GMB union to take a more critical and active interest in the equal pay claims of its members in North Lanarkshire Council.
Regular readers will recall that for some reason the GMB decided to restrict the claims of its members in NLC to only three years, instead of following Action 4 Equality Scotland's lead and challenging the council's job evaluation scheme (JES).
But after I highlighted the issue on my blog site the GMB was spurred into action which resulted in the union's general secretary, Sir Paul Kenny, removing the GMB regional secretary in Scotland (Harry Donaldson) and replacing him with a chap called Gary Smith, in an effort to clear up the mess.
Now I don't know and have never met Gary Smith although to be fair he has acted decisively by effectively 'sacking' the GMB's lawyers (Digby Brown) and 'heavying-up' on Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council.
Apparently, the GMB is pursuing a formal complaint against Digby Brown and here is a previous post from the blog site which explains the background in more detail.
NLC Update (15/10/15)
A kind reader has passed on to me details of a letter from the GMB to union members in North Lanarkshire - the following two paragraphs caught my attention immediately:
"I (Gary Smith) have launched a full investigation into the North Lanarkshire case and a complete assessment of the legal strategy pursued by Digby Brown in relation to our equal pay cases in all of Scotland. If claims need to be amended, they will be, and if we have received the wrong advice we will take action to protect our members' position.
"In the meantime, if you are a GMB member and you have a case with Digby Brown, we will be happy to transfer it to a different firm if you are unhappy with the current placement. Please contact our GMB law firm - UnionLine - at email@example.com or call them on 0300 333 0303, If you would like us to relocate your case. UnionLine is a legal firm owned by the union and operates on a not for profit basis."
Now it seems obvious to me that the GMB must have lost confidence in Digby Brown, but in the recent members' meetings I've attended the GMB explained that a national policy decision was responsible for restricting its members claims to only 3-years.
But now the GMB appears to be blaming Digby Brown although I fail to understand how members can be invited to transfer their equal pay claims elsewhere (to another law firm), without being told, first of all, what has gone wrong in relation to their claims Digby Brown.
So the following questions need an urgent answer, if you ask me:
1 Will the results of the GMB's investigation be shared with union members in North Lanarkshire?
2 Does the GMB now accept that its legal advice was wrong?
3 Will the GMB be sharing this legal advice with the members affected?
4 Will the GMB confirm that settlement proposals were put directly to North Lanarkshire Council by, or on behalf of, the GMB trade union?
The sooner we have an independents complaints procedure for trade unions in the UK the better - because this is a perfect example of the difficulty that ordinary union members often have in holding big union bureaucracies to account.
North Lanarkshire Update (15/01/17)
Here are some kind words from another satisfied A4ES client in North Lanarkshire Council.
"Just a wee note to say my payment came into my account today thank you all so much again for all your hard work and patience, you all deserve a medal D"
Now a medal would be nice, not least because I have not received one in a long time since my football paying teenage years in fact, which I still have somewhere by the way.
But I'm just glad to have been of service and to have made such a difference to so many people's lives during the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils.
The Fight for Equal Pay (06/01/17)
I've been inspired by a recent Twitter conversation to dig into the blog site archive and revisit the key landmarks in the fight for equal pay in Scotland's local councils.
- The background to Equal Pay lies in the early 1990s when the big public sector trade unions (GMB, NUPE and TGWU) set out to negotiate a set of common conditions of service for all UK local government workers - with a new 'Single Status' Agreement.
- The goal of the trade unions was shared, in principle, by the UK employers and this was to end the widespread pay discrimination against low paid, predominantly female, council employees - in caring, cleaning, catering and school support jobs.
- The unions warned the employers that if negotiations failed to deliver equal pay, then they would seek to achieve their aims via the courts, since it was obvious to everyone that the employers could not justify a Home Carer being paid the equivalent of only £6.00 an hour while a Refuse Collector was earning £9.00 per hour.
- At the time Mark Irvine was the Head of Local Government for Unison in Scotland and a key figure in the UK and Scottish negotiations which led to a UK wide agreement in 1997 that, subsequently, became the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland in 1999.
- Stefan Cross (now a QC) was then a leading employment lawyer with Thompsons Solicitors and fought his first major equal pay case as far back as 1995 before setting up a practice of his own, initially based in Newcastle.
- The trade unions and employers were both alarmed at this development, as they had completely failed to implement the landmark UK and Scottish Single Status agreements, despite all their fine words about tackling discrimination and delivering equal pay for work of equal value.
- Stefan Cross and Mark Irvine met in Newcastle in March 2005 to discuss reviving the fight for equal pay north of the border. In August 2005 Action 4 Equality Scotland was launched in a fanfare of publicity, courtesy of a major BBC Scotland news programme (see post below dated 28 May 2016 along with the original BBC web site report from 2005).
- All of the Scottish papers followed the story up and after years in the doldrums Equal Pay was front page news once again: Stefan Cross and Stefan Cross Solicitors provided the legal expertise and representation in the Employment Tribunals; Mark Irvine and A4ES became the campaign vehicle to get a message across to potential claimants and the wider public.
- Glasgow was the first council to be targeted (as the largest in Scotland) and after a few months of posturing and insisting that the City had no equal pay problem, the Council sounded a hasty retreat. By Christmas Glasgow was offering derisory sums of cash to 'buy out' people's claims.
- Lots of workers succumbed to the temptation, given the Council's 'bullying' tactics and the time of year. The workforce also lacked support from their own Labour-supporting trade unions who had failed to tackle the issue for years, even though all the big councils were Labour controlled, as was COSLA, of course, the self-styled voice of Scottish local government.
- Glasgow reached an 'interim' settlement of claims with A4ES up to 31 March 2006, but not for the period from 1 April 2006 onwards when the Council introduced new local pay arrangements and a new job evaluation scheme (JES).
- The hard work of extending the equal pay campaign across Scotland had begun and within two years A4ES was leading the charge in many other councils as well including Edinburgh, Fife, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire and so on.
- I began writing my blog in January 2007 and restricted myself, initially, to news and reports about the ongoing campaign, but over the years the blog 'grew like 'Topsy' and evolved into something that I enjoy writing for many other reasons as well.
- Towards the end of 2008 Carol Fox joined Stefan Cross Solicitors (see post below dated 15 October 2008) and assumed responsibility for the day-to-day legal cases in Scotland.
- Carol played a key role in the ongoing work in the Employment Tribunals, for example in the successful case against South Lanarkshire Council (SLC). A talented and very feisty woman barrister named Sandhya Drew presented the A4ES case and the long-running tribunal eventually found in the claimants favour.
- Meanwhile the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) got involved after Labour-run South Lanarkshire refused an freedom of information (FoI) request from Mark Irvine. SLC appealed a SIC ruling (in Mark Irvine's favour) requiring the Council to publish information relating to the pay differences between traditional male and female jobs.
- After losing its appeal case to a unanimous judgement at the UK Supreme Court in London, SLC 'sued for peace' and settlements quickly followed for or over 3,000 A4ES clients. The local unions in South Lanarkshire looked ridiculous, by the way, having previously discouraged their members from pursuing equal pay claims against the local Labour-run Council.
- Another person that must be mentioned in dispatches, of course, is the indomitable Daphne Romney QC who drove a veritable 'coach and horses' through the pay arrangements that North Lanarkshire Council had introduced in 2007, with the Labour supporting union again playing a very negative role.
- Again thousands of low paid, predominantly women workers, were properly compensated after years of unequal pay and having the wool pulled over their eyes by their employers and trade unions.
- Carol Fox decided to step back from the fray in the summer of 2015, for personal and family reasons, and since then A4ES has worked with another firm of solicitors HBJ Gateley to provide clients with first class legal support (see post below dated 6 September 2015).
- Ironically, after all this time has passed things have come full circle again as the equal pay campaign focuses on Labour-run Glasgow, as the only major council in Scotland not to have reached a settlement with A4ES over its post-job evaluation pay arrangements.