Monday, 22 January 2018

The Fight for Equal Pay in Glasgow

Now here's something you don't see every day - a wonderfully spirited, honest and frank opinion piece on the subject of equal pay.

Catriona Stewart doesn't exactly pull her punches in The Herald as she points out that many of Glasgow's equal pay claimants have two and even three jobs to make ends meet; others work lots of overtime to boost their income and to add insult to injury they are then paid less than traditional male council workers for doing their additional hours.

So Catriona hits the nail on the head when she says that Glasgow's women must not be blackmailed into accepting less than they are due because of the cost to the City Council.

No one wants to see cuts to council services although Labour's Frank McAveety and the SNP's John Mason were both quick to raise this prospect as a way of 'qualifying' their support for righting this great wrong.

'I'm all in favour of equal pay. but not if it costs too much', has been a common refrain down the years often from people who regard themselves as good trade unionists and socialists.

As Catriona Stewart says, the City Council's lowest paid women workers have been fleeced once and they are not about to let that happen again.

'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me' as the old saying goes.

Catriona Stewart: Glasgow's equal pay women must not be asked for more sacrifices

By Catriona Stewart @LadyCatHT - The Herald

The banners are defiant. Equal Pay or We Walk Away.

Of course, these women can't and won't walk away - and that is really at the heart of the issue.

On Wednesday a Glasgow City Council committee voted to end more than a decade of litigation over equal pay for low-paid, predominantly female staff, and move to negotiating a settlement instead. The council was making a decision on whether or not to appeal a Court of Session ruling allowing thousands of women to make claims against the authority to the tune of, well, a sum no one can accurately name although it is thought to be as much as £500 million.

More than 10,000 employees and former employees claim a workforce pay and benefits review (WPBR) in 2006 discriminated against those working in roles such as caring, cleaning and catering: predominantly female jobs. It was a deliberate disguising of the pay reassessment to look like equality while protecting salaries of male workers through bonuses and benefits not available to their female counterparts.

The previous Labour administration has daundered up, down and around instead of paying these women what they are owed, adding, according to the new SNP leader Susan Aitken, £20m a year to the final bill this council will face.

Labour leader Frank McAveety, who had the audacity or the chutzpah, depending on your stance, to congratulate the women following Thursday's vote, raised concerns in the meeting about the negative impact on jobs and services if the council pays out. He's right: the city is in a hole.

The SNP administration is already waving the victory in Labour's face, expecting us to be awed and humbled that they have enforced equality legislation passed nearly 50 years ago.

Listening to the women talk following the vote, the women who carry our city, who keep it running, there was a distinct air of excitement and anticipation. The payouts are coming, they hope, the changes to terms and conditions that will make their wages fair are on their way too.

No wonder there's excitement: some of these women are working two, even three, jobs to make ends meet.

There is an upbeat Erin Brockovich feel to the whole thing. Despite the excitement, the situation is far from over. What happens now is the lengthy and difficult process of negotiating how much workers are to get. To be clear, this is not extra cash. This is money that should have already been in the pockets of these women.

But if the women are paid in full it will severely impact council services. The losers will be the citizens of Glasgow - though we can hardly feel sorry for ourselves, having unfairly benefitted for years from the labour of underpaid women.

There may be cuts and redundancies to foot the bill. When 4000 women workers at Birmingham City Council won their equal pay claim in 2010, the city council skittered about making a settlement for a few years and then complained in 2014 it might have to sell off the NEC to cover the costs.

No one wants to see Glasgow City Council pawning its jewellery. But guilt must not be allowed to be a factor in the negotiations. It is not the responsibility of these women to take a hit and accept less than a full settlement in the interests of supporting the city.

It is so often the women who are asked to make sacrifices for the sake of the smooth running of families and of society. It is the women who pause their careers to take on childcare. It is the women who pause their lives to take on caring roles when a family member is ill or elderly.

What they will be asked to do now is to sacrifice money they are owed for the sake of the city. To be reasonable. Having been fleeced once while carrying the city on their backs, they will be asked to accept a second fleecing to ensure the services they already provide are safe.

Of course there is a balance to be struck. For many it will more important to have some money in their pockets now rather than a full payout years down the line. For others it will be the principle of the thing. For none must it be about making sacrifices.

They have made sacrifices. It is now up to the city to reward them fairly.