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.
But A4ES, Stefan Cross and Mark Irvine have all been involved from day one - and we are determined to see this fight through to the end.
How It All Began (28/05/16)
Action 4 Equality Scotland burst on to the scene on 15 August 2005 after a BBC Scotland film crew travelled to Newcastle to explain the fight for equal pay that had been raging in the north east on England with Stefan Cross Solicitors leading the way.
Now the trade unions had been huffing, puffing and pontificating about equal pay for many years before AAES came along, but not once did they ever come close to blowing the council employer's house down.
And the reason A4ES has been such a great success is that we don't have any party political connections to the employers and so we don't pull our punches in dealing with the likes of Labour-run Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, and Fife Councils.
Unequal pay could cost councils - BBC August 2005
A recent campaign highlighted the issue of unequal pay
A recent campaign highlighted the issue of unequal pay
Local authorities in Scotland could face a bill of about £500m to settle backdated claims for equal pay from women workers in the public sector.
Councils in the north east of England have already paid £75m after claims involving 8,000 women workers.
In 1999 most councils in that region signed equal pay agreements but they failed to implement them.
The Action 4 Equality campaign, which has also won settlements at employment tribunals, is now heading to Scotland.
Many north east councils offered compensation to all women employees who had been affected by unequal pay over the years.
Last month Newcastle City Council reached a settlement with trade unions which will benefit 2,800 workers, such as cleaners and care-at-home staff.
Gateshead, Durham City, Sunderland, South Tyneside and North Tyneside have also made multi-million pound payouts.
However, Action 4 Equality, an organisation linked to a firm of solicitors, said that workers could launch legal action against the councils.
It has already secured payouts of up to £34,000 for staff in Redcar and Cleveland.
The Scottish organiser of Action 4 Equality, Mark Irvine, estimated that 50,000 women workers in Scotland could claim.
He claims that if they got the same sort of settlements already paid in England, the bill could be more than £700m.
He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that talks with employers so far had proved unhelpful.
Mr Irvine said: "Negotiations between employers and the trade unions have been ongoing for several years and the best brains among them have failed to come up with a solution so far.
"If people want to settle equal pay claims, the best way to achieve that is to take direct action through the employment courts with the support of Action 4 Equality."
Council employers said England had suffered from fast buck legal claims which could damage local government in Scotland.
Local authority body Cosla admitted there was a problem but said talks with unions was the best way to reach a solution.
President Pat Watters said: "The people who will get rich with this will not be the workers, but the lawyers negotiating the claims.
"Action 4 Equality is a not a charity organisation but is there to make money, 20% will be creamed off right away for the lawyers. What it is making right now off the backs of workers is millions of pounds."
Mr Watters estimated that the bill for local authorities in relation to pay claims would reach £500m.
He added that money to pay claims would have to come from council taxpayers unless the government stepped in to help out.
A claim under the Equal Pay Act 1970 may be made by either a woman or a man claiming equal pay with one or more comparators of the other sex.
He or she needs to show a difference in pay for doing "like work", "work rated as equivalent" or "work of equal value".