Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Get Serious, Glasgow

As I write this post, settlement meeting Number 13 is about to get underway with Glasgow City Council, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to re-publish my thoughts on the evident 'lack of progress' that is being made in these negotiations.

Contrary to the claims of the Council leader Susan Aitken, serious negotiations with the claimants representatives have still to get underway which is why there is now a very real  prospect of returning to the Employment Tribunals - and of industrial action taking place over 'unequal' pay in Scotland's largest council.

Susan Aitken has been sending out a standard letter (reproduced below) in a effort to reassure claimants  that 'all is well', but this is simply not correct because if these talks were making steady progress no one would be contemplating industrial action or considering the need for taking all the claims back to court.

At best there is likely to be two more settlement meetings before the process is interrupted by the summer holiday season and it will not get underway again until mid August, by which time we will be approaching the ninth month of 'negotiations' and the anniversary of the Court of Session judgment which condemned Glasgow City Council's WPBR pay scheme as 'unfit for purpose'.

So now is the time for Scotland's largest council to 'get serious' about delivering  equal pay and replacing the WPBR because if this sham process continues, there will be consequences.


A number of Glasgow readers have shared an email from the City Council leader, Susan Aitken, which is reproduced below for easy reference.

If you ask me, Susan Aitken has set out a clear position which can be fairly summarised as follows: 

1 The Scottish Government has no role to play
2 Everyone agreed on a year's worth of meetings
3 Council officials are not employing delaying tactics 
4 Elected members are overseeing the settlement process 
5 A process is also underway to 'address' the WPBR, pay and grading 
6 The Council has delivered, halted the litigation and brought Cordia back 'in-house'
7 The Council will continue making progress towards settlement in the months ahead

So allow me to respond from the perspective of the claimants.

1) The Scottish Government does have an important role to play and has in the past allowed other councils to access additional borrowing 'consents' to help them meet the costs of equal pay. Glasgow has a much bigger problem than other councils in Scotland because it is the largest council, by far, and also allowed this long-running equal pay dispute to drag on for so long.

2) No one agreed that negotiations would last a full year, and there is no reason they should take so long, but the real problem is that after all these months there has been so little progress to report - which is why the trade unions have decided to consult their members about taking strike action if the situation doesn't improve. 

3) Council officials are still fighting old battles and refuse to accept the unanimous judgment of the Court of Session which condemned Glasgow's pay arrangements as 'unfit for purpose'. Council officials insist they acted in good faith over the WPBR, yet refuse to explain their role in the WPBR's introduction in 2005/07. At one stage, officials even threatened to impose a 'interim settlement' which had not been negotiated or agreed with the Claimants.

4) Elected members may well be 'overseeing' the process but they seem to be getting fed a very one sided and partial view of the big issues from senior officials. There has been no dialogue between the Claimants Representatives and Elected Members - the Claimants offered to brief Glasgow councillors earlier this year (on their perspective), but this offer was declined.

5) The highest civil court in Scotland unanimously judged Glasgow's WPBR to be 'unfit for purpose' and the Claimants clearly won the argument that the 37 hour 'rule', for example, is blatantly discriminatory along with many other WPBR practices. Yet council officials (and perhaps the politicians?) still argue that the onus is still on the Claimants to persuade the City Council that the WPBR needs to be replaced.   

6) The Council made the right decision in halting the litigation, but this has been replaced by a 'slow boat to China' settlement process in which there have been no serious negotiations. Council officials do not accept the Claimants' comparators and do not accept that overtime working or holiday pay have been operating for years on a discriminatory basis. Cordia has been brought back in house which is a good thing, but the officials leading the settlement negotiations created this 'monster' in the first place - and allowed Cordia to treat its workforce as second class citizens.

7) 'Steady progress' is council speak for 'moving at the speed of a glacier'. I've been involved in the equal pay settlement process in lots of other Scottish councils, but I have to say that Glasgow lacks a sense of urgency, purpose and direction. So the omens are not good, unless the process becomes 'turbo-charged' and the council gets serious about compensating the claimants and replacing the WPBR.      


Glasgow - Bog Standard Replies (21/05/18)

The daughter of one of Glasgow's equal pay claimants wrote a very personal and passionate letter to the leader of the Council about her mum's long fight for equal pay - and here's what Susan Aitken had to say in reply. 

This is the response my daughter has been given by Susan Aiken

I have been very consistent in saying from the outset of this process that settling an issue that has existed for over a decade would most likely take several months to complete. That is the view of ALL of the parties round the negotiating table – the Council, the trade unions and the private lawyers Action for Equality – and ALL of them agreed to schedule meetings until the end of this calendar year at least. That is a timetable that has been agreed since the beginning of the negotiations and was confirmed in the paper that was taken to Council committee to agree a halt to the litigation.

A process has been put in place to allow discussion and negotiation on each of the issues and that is ongoing. There has been considerable progress on several areas.

Claimants’ representatives, rightly, called for more political oversight over this process as this had been lacking over the past decade – and welcomed it when it was set up. This means that Council officers report in to both a group of senior SNP Councillors, and a cross-party group of Councillors about progress and take direction about the way to move forwards. This is the correct approach which will ensure we all get to where we want to in a manner which ensures that the settlement is fair.

There is a parallel process in place to address the issue of a new pay and grading scheme for the Council and the first meeting has taken place.

The SNP administration has consistently delivered progress on equal pay over the past year. When I became Leader of the Council, legal action was still ongoing; there was no negotiation process or even informal talks; and there was no commitment to harmonise terms and conditions for Cordia staff. Now, less than a year later, litigation by the Council has been halted by a unanimous vote of a Council committee; there are formal negotiating meetings taking place on a fortnightly basis and the Council negotiators also meet me and other senior councillors every two weeks; and we have budgeted and formally agreed to bring Cordia staff back into the Council and harmonise their terms and conditions.

I have been clear in my commitment to deliver pay justice for women council workers like your Mum since before the election and I continue to be so. The story of the past year has been one of steady progress towards a negotiated resolution, backed by the democratic process of the Council. This will continue over the coming months until a resolution to this long standing injustice has been found, and we have a clear way forward to ensure it never happens again.

Kind regards,

Councillor Susan Aitken
Leader of the Council
SNP Councillor for Langside

Now this is essentially the same 'standard' letter the leader's office has been churning out for weeks and I should know because I responded to its contents, point by point, in a post dated 3rd May 2018 which us reproduced below for easy reference.

I have to say I am shocked at the 'bog standard' nature of the Council leader's response, not just because it paints a very one sided picture of what has been going on in Glasgow, but because it's so completely dismissive of a young woman who has put such thought and effort into standing up for her mum.

Let's hope that, on reflection, Susan Aitken takes the time and trouble to write a nicer, more personal and considered reply.


Glasgow's Fight For Equal Pay (16/05/18)

Here's a fantastic letter that the daughter of a Glasgow equal pay claimant has written to Susan Aitken, Leader of the City Council, and Nicola Sturgeon, MSP for Glasgow Southside and Scotland's First Minister. 

Now this young woman clearly has a gift for words and I understand that she's still at school - where she's been studying women's rights and democracy, would you believe!

Well she has a very  bright future ahead of herself, if you ask me.

And I only hope the politicians are listening carefully to what she has to say - because her words and the passion of her argument over equal pay would put many a Glasgow council official, elected councillor, MSP and MP to shame.

Now that's what I call standing up and speaking out.


Hello, good day Mam.

This is the daughter of MC.

I was wondering if when I'm older this will effect my generation as I watch my mum complain about this it starts to annoy me even more knowing that my mum and loads of other mothers aren't getting payed the right wages all of yous act like its not a big thing when it clearly is.

As you see you are taking mothers and fathers away from there children as there parents have to do overtime so they can make decent wage to live, many mothers and fathers wish they could see there kids at night but sometimes in a day all in all I'm lucky if I see my mum for an hour because I come in the door then she's gone. 

Think back to when you were younger would you like it if you only saw your mum or dad for an hour if lucky? 

Anyways I would like to say get this sorted soon because before you know it they will all be out on strike and yous will have no one to turn back to but for now remind the council they have lost the battle and should just deal with it and give out the money they seem to be able to pay other council workers the right amount.

So why not pay our mothers and fathers the right wages. When at Christmas time your sitting with you kids and family having a lovely time while our parents have to rush there food just to watch there kids open a few presents while you sit there watching your kids the whole day having fun. 

Not complaining on the job my mum does because I know my mum likes her job just annoys me and probably a lot of other children my age that there mums and dads don't get payed the right wages for what they do. 

I know that you promised you would sort this for them as this was one of your manifesto commitments to sorting equal pay. 

I hope that you keep to your promise and get this sorted as I can't bear seeing my mum and other parents complaining and feeling let down by the leader yourself on witch you promised to sort I look forward to hearing from yourself.

Thank you for taking your time today to read this

Yours sincerely

MC's daughter

PS Since I wrote this post I hear that MC's daughter received a very disappointing reply in the shape of a 'standard' letter from the Council leader Susan Aitken. 

I've only had a very quick look at this letter, but it seems the same, or very similar, to one that the leader's office released several days ago. I'll have a more detailed search later today and have more to say on the blog soon.