Monday, 27 April 2009

Equalities Bill

Government Ministers have taken to their airwaves today to announce the arrival of a new Equalities Bill - which will encourage employers to conduct equal pay audits on a voluntary basis.

In plain language, this means that employers will be asked to highlight any differences in pay between male and female jobs.

Pay differences that have been around for almost 40 years now - despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

Much too little, much too late - you might be tempted to say - after all the government has been in power for 12 long years - since 1997, in fact, the same year that the UK Single Status Agreement was introduced.

Yet only now is the government getting round to thinking about 'asking' employers, very politely - if they wouldn't mind sharing such information with their employees and the general public.

"Just where have they been for the past 12 years?" - is the obvious question.

Much of the comment focuses on the private sector - but if anything the public sector is a better example of large employers behaving furtively - completely ignoring their duty to act openly and transparently.

Big councils kept their female employees in the dark for years - about the hidden bonus payments to traditional male jobs - and in some areas today the pay of certain jobs is still a closely guarded secret.

But the real scandal is that this has been taking place - right under the noses of the trade unions.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Politics and Equal Pay

Image of the week must surely be that of Alex Salmond – being greeted warmly and to loud applause by delegates to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) – Scotland’s annual gathering of the trade union movement.

In times gone by, the attendance of the SNP leader at the STUC has been hugely controversial – because the brothers are virtually all Labour supporters; extremely tribal, and often sectarian, in their political outlook.

But you can’t argue with people power – Alex Salmond was there as Scotland’s First Minister – so the trade unions had no choice other than to be friendly and welcoming to someone they regard privately as a deadly political foe.

Now this is odd – because ordinary union members are just the same as everyone else – they support political parties of all hues and colours – the SNP, Lib Dems, Conservatives, Greens, Socialist Party/Solidarity and even the occasional Independent.

Yet union bosses can’t see past the Labour Party – and they use vast sums of their members’ money cozying up to Labour – over £100 million in the past 20 years.

Money that could have been spent on standing up for the members’ interests – instead of trying to buy muscle and influence inside just one political party.

What has this got to do with equal pay?

Quite a lot actually – because one of the reasons that the unions gave the employers such an easy time after signing the 1999 Single Status Agreement – is that all the big councils were Labour-run councils: Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Fife.

And the Labour supporting trade unions lacked the political will they needed to take a firm stand with and fall out with, if necessary, their political allies – who were pulling the strings inside Scottish local government.

So, in reality, lip service was paid to equal pay and single status – and the trade unions decided to choose the easy option and not to rock any boats - while council budgets doubled over ten years.

Proportional representation (PR) changed all that – there are still lots of issues and problems to overcome and none of the political parties have covered themselves in glory on the subject of equal pay.

But PR ended Labour’s stranglehold on power – and the reduced the ability of politicians from just one party to lord it over us – in Scotland at least, since Westminster and other UK elections have still to catch up.

The Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s councils now reflect – much more accurately than they used to – the people they are elected to represent.

Whatever party people support - if you support one at all - that can only be a good thing for our democracy and the future of politics in Scotland.

The point is that things can change – things do change – and while equal pay is a hard slog in many areas – it’s something that’s still worth fighting for.

10 years ago it would have been unthinkable for Alex Salmond to be cheered to the rafters at the STUC. 10 years on it’s time for the unions to transcend party politics - and put the interests of their members first.

Friday, 17 April 2009

South Lanarkshire

Action 4 Equality Scotland held a successful series of meetings in South Lanarkshire earlier this year – several hundred people came along – some for the first time, others to hear about how their equal pay claims were progressing.

The current position is that we are seeking dates for a Pre-Hearing Review (PHR) which will challenge the council’s pay and grading structure and, effectively, the way South Lanarkshire has implemented the 1999 Single Status Agreement, particularly its ‘in-house’ job evaluation (JE) scheme.

So, we are planning to repeat the series of meetings we held in January – but this time we’re going to invite local politicians to come along and hear first-hand what council employees have to say.

Why? Because many local politicians were not around when the 1999 Single Status Agreement was introduced and few have a detailed knowledge of what has been going on in South Lanarkshire over recent years.

South Lanarkshire is unique amongst Scottish councils. We believe there are serious flaws in the council’s job evaluation scheme which can be summarised as follows:

  1. The pay and grading process is not open and transparent
  2. Council employees cannot discover how their own jobs are valued
  3. Council employees cannot discover how other council jobs have been valued
  4. The Council claims but can’t substantiate trade union support for the JE scheme
  5. Most female dominated council jobs remain stuck at the bottom of the pay ladder
  6. Single Status in South Lanarkshire has reinforced pay discrimination against female jobs
  7. The Council has introduced widespread personal pay preservation for traditional male jobs
  8. The Council’s preservation scheme is a clear breach the 1999 Single Status Agreement
  9. Many women workers in South Lanarkshire Council are treated less favourably than men

So we want to open up a dialogue with local MSPs. We want council employees in South Lanarkshire to contact their MSPs – and ask for their help in getting some straight answers to straight questions about equal pay and Single Status.

Because no other council in Scotland is behaving the way South Lanarkshire is behaving - and we want to mobilise the many employees who are have been badly let down by Single Status.

Why will the politicians listen? Because local voters count – local voters will decide the outcome of the next Scottish Parliament, Westminster and local council elections.

And we want the politicians to realise that the issue of equal pay won’t go away until there’s a fair settlement of people’s claims.

We plan to publish names and contact e-mail addresses for local MSPs – over the next week or so. All the background information you need is on the blog site – and the more people that get involved the better.

If you need any additional help, drop Mark Irvine a note at:

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Aberdeen City Council

News reports this morning suggest that Aberdeen's lump sum payment proposals have run into problems - apparently the unions have come out against the idea. Here's what we had to say on the matter back in January - so it's good to see others now agree with us, even if it's a bit late in the day.

Post from 14 January 2009

Aberdeen City Council is issuing new contracts of employment to all staff – having failed to reach a collective agreement with the trade unions over Single Status and Equal Pay.

The council says that it can’t achieve a collective agreement because of recent case law – i.e. the Allen V GMB case where low paid GMB members successfully sued their own union.

But the council is wrong – the Allen v GMB case does not stop trade unions negotiating collective agreements – all it does is prevent them from negotiating deals that discriminate against their own women members.

So, Aberdeen is now pursuing a voluntary sign up campaign - staff are being asked to accept new contracts on a voluntary basis by 30 January 2009 - those that do so will receive an incentive Equal Pay and Modernisation (EPM) payment.

Details of the EPM payment will be estimated and issued to staff along with their new contracts in January - and the new contracts are due to take effect on 1 May 2009

Staff who do not accept the new contracts voluntarily with be given 12 weeks notice - and invited to sign again on 1 May 2009 - if they refuse at that stage they will be dismissed.

The EPM payment replaces any backdating of money from the JE review - so lots of people will be furious at the trade unions and management – for making such a mess of the Job Evaluation (JE) process.

Incredibly, the EPM payment applies to only two categories of staff: those who end up in pay protection as a result of the JE scheme (i.e. the traditional male, bonus earning jobs) - and the 'winners' from the JE scheme (i.e. those whose pay increases).

Both groups will get a lump sum – the logic of paying the ‘winners’ a lump sum is clear – it’s because the council is going back on its commitment to backdate the outcome of the JE scheme – the ‘winners’ are receiving partial compensation for their loss of back pay.

But there is no logic at all for giving a lump sum to male workers on pay protection – because their pay is being protected and they’re not losing anything – yet the female dominated groups are not being offered the same ‘incentive’ to sign up.

Male workers on pay protection will also receive a final ‘parachute’ payment when pay protection comes to an end in April 2012 – another payment withheld from female groups.

What is clear is that the Aberdeen package favours traditional male jobs – and because of this ongoing discrimination and differences in treatment - the council’s actions will simply enhance the claims of its women workers.

More to follow – watch this space.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Six Month Rule

A reader from Midlothian has been in touch on behalf of her daughter - who stopped working for the council in 2008.

Having heard about equal pay - the young woman wrote to the council to enquire about any back pay she was due - only to be told that she would be getting nothing - as she had to register a claim within six months of ending her employment.

Now technically this is true - because the employment tribunals won't accept any claims that are outside of the six month time limit.

But the council is hiding behind the law - because there's nothing to stop the council from acting as a good employer and making an offer to staff who have retired or moved to another job. It's called doing the right thing.

In fact, the employer and the trade unions had a responsibility to advise people of their rights to equal pay - and their failure to give proper advice has cost many ex-council workers very dear.

So, if you are retiring, leaving for another job outside the council or moving to another job inside the council - make sure you get proper advice.

Job Evaluation Appeals

A reader from Fife has been in touch regarding job evaluation appeals - apparently Fife Council's procedures allow for only two very narrow grounds of appeal which are:

That a job has been been:

- matched to the wrong job family and/or
- matched to the wrong level within the job family

What people need to undertsand is that the employers are making up these rules as they go along - sometimes with the tacit support or acquiesence of the trade unions.

Which is why so many people are taking the cases up via an equal pay claim - because that takes the issue outside of the council - and the employers are no longer judge and jury in their own cause.

In Glasgow, for example, the council's new pay and grading structure awards extra points (and pay) simply for working full-time or for doing a 'task and finish' job.

In our view, these conditions discriminate against female dominated jobs - where task and finish is not an option and where many people work part-time, not full-time, hours.

So, these 'rules' can and should be challenged - especially if they have been invented out of thin air and purely for the convenience of the employers.

The starting point is to understand how all jobs have been scored - relative to one another - because that's the only way for people to know whether some jobs have been treated more favourably than others.

The 1999 Single Status Agreement states that appeal procedures should be agreed locally - but surely no trade union would agree to a set of rules that blatantly favours the employers and ties the hands of its own members?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Court of Appeal - General Update

The Court of Appeal has now resolved the dispute over comparators that had prevented real progress with many of the Scottish claims - see post dated 7 April 2009.

In light of the Court of Appeal's judgment, Stefan Cross Solicitors will be writing written to the tribunals making application to dismiss these arguments where they have been relied upon by individual Scottish councils.

The Court of Appeal makes it overwhelmingly clear that frustrating progress in these claims is no longer to be tolerated.

So, Stefan Cross Solicitors is now requesting that all claims affected by these comparator points - should now be allowed to proceed and determine the substantive issues.

Specifically, the aim is to arrange a Case Management Discussion at the earliest opportunity to discuss the listing of these claims for a Pre-Hearing Review - to consider the Respondent’s Genuine Material Factor (GMF) defences.

A GMF hearing is where the employers' have to explain and justify the big differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs.

GMF hearings are already underway with Glasgow City Council and Fife Council - and a GMF hearing involving North Ayrshire Council is due to begin on 27 April 2009.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

General Update

Some of the equal pay claims currently working their way through the Employment Tribunal process have stalled recently - because of a dispute over comparators.

Female claimants compare their earnings against the higher (bonus-related) earnings of male employees in predominantly-male comparator posts.

Unfortunately some employers have tried to delay the tribunal process by arguing that people should not be able to rely on comparators in their claims which are not mentioned in their original grievances.

In our view - a view that's shared by the trade unions - this is a trivial point which does not detract in any way from the strength of people's claims.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has already ruled on this point – by firmly rejecting the employers' arguments.

See the following quote the Honourable Mr Justice Elias, President of the EAT:

"The EAT has been inundated with appeals relating to the operation of the statutory grievance procedures. Rarely can legislation have been so counter-productive. Provisions designed to reduce tribunal disputes have spawned satellite litigation in which arcane and complex points of law have been argued, frequently so remote from reality that they would surprise even the most desiccated Chancery lawyer conjured up by the imagination of a Charles Dickens."

Sadly - and in a further waste of public money - the employers' side appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal.

A decision from the Court of Appeal is due to be announced imminently – and at that stage the outstanding cases will proceed.

We are currently waiting on that decision - as soon as any news is announced we will let you know.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Glasgow Cries Foul

Glasgow City Council has cried foul over the investigation instigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – see post dated 26 March 2009.

The council has accused the equalities watchdog of ‘showing bias’ because the Commission in launching its investigation said that it had significant concerns about the council’s Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR).

The Commission has since apologised for using the words – ‘significant concerns’ and has since made it clear there is no intention to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation into Glasgow’s pay and grading structures.

Now – to any sane person - this would seem to be a row about nothing.

Because how can an investigation get underway - unless the ‘watchdog’ has concerns about the very pay and related issues that the Commission has been set up to police - on behalf of the general public?

For once, the GMB is on the right side of the argument – a spokesperson said that the council was getting involved in technical legal arguments to delay the inevitable – rather than dealing with the real issues.

And for the record the real issue is that certain features of the WPBR appear to discriminate against women workers – the vast majority of whom are, of course, women.

For example, full-time workers get extra points and extra pay simply for being full-time – whereas part-time workers get nothing, not a penny – not even on a pro rata basis.

So, let the investigation get underway and do it work.

The Commission has apologised to avoid being diverted into an artificial row – but the real issues are of enormous importance to many thousands of women workers across Glasgow.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Falkirk Claims

A reader from Falkirk – a former union rep - has been in touch to say that the equal pay fight is taking some odd twists and turns locally.

Apparently the GMB is back in the ring – stressing the union’s unwavering support for the equal pay cases that are underway – and calling for these to be settled without further delay.

The GMB is now saying these claims are straightforward, uncomplicated and completely justified!

Now, this is odd – because our reader says the GMB is the same union that told her and her colleagues that they were on their own.

The GMB wanted nothing to do with them - nor did it want to get involved in taking further action against Falkirk Council over equal pay.

So, they came to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross for help – and we have been working ever since to bring these claims to a successful conclusion.

Now – when it comes to equal pay – the unions have a poor track record.

Can they really be trusted to do the right thing – when they have let people down so badly in the past?

Who knows – maybe they’ll just revert to type when they the chance.

But if the GMB is now willing to put Falkirk and other councils under the spotlight – then that can only be a good thing - even if it is trying to re-write history.

Because the more pressure there is on the employers to come to their senses – the sooner people will get a fair settlement of their claims

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Scottish Parliament - Evidence (5)

Ongoing Issues and Concerns (continued)

Job Evaluation – Local Implementation

30) South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) has introduced a JE scheme that prevents council employees from understanding and comparing the relative worth of their jobs. Up until now, SLC has been unable or unwilling to explain how all the different jobs have been valued under its ‘in-house’ scheme. SLC is the only council in Scotland in this position and it has still to explain clearly how employees moved across from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ pay structures.

31) Glasgow City Council has introduced a new concept of Core and Non-Core pay. In our view the non-core pay element is discriminatory and unlawful because it awards additional grading points (and extra pay) to predominantly male jobs, e.g. full-time workers get 7 extra points (£800 pa) - which penalises part-time workers, the vast majority of whom are women.

32) North Lanarkshire Council has introduced new incremental scales for jobs which previously had no increments, with many existing employees being placed at the bottom of the new pay scales. Yet, the standard of work required from employees and standard of service delivered to clients has remained exactly the same. In our view, these experience-related increments cannot be justified as they discriminate on the grounds of age.

Council Compromise Agreements
33) Glasgow City Council led the way in organising local ‘acceptance’ meetings where employees were offered a cash lump sum – in return for which they were required to sign away their legal rights under a Compromise Agreement.

34) But these agreements may not be valid under s77 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 because employees in Glasgow were directed to a solicitor or law firm chosen by the council. Employees had no role or choice in selecting the individual lawyers and it has since become clear that the law firms involved agreed to restrict the scope of their advice on terms laid down by the city council. This may affect other councils as well.

35) Employees were unaware of the relationship between the city council and various law firms providing ‘independent’ advice. Specifically, they were not made aware that the council was working closely with these law firms, had already agreed to pay their fees and directly influenced what their solicitors could or could not say to council employees.

Trade Unions and the Allen v GMB Case
36) The big three public sector unions (GMB, Unison and Unite) are all affected by a landmark decision from August 2008 in the Court of Appeal. The case, known as Allen v GMB, found that the GMB had discriminated against their own low-paid women members. The women sought equal pay with the men and alleged they were represented inadequately by the union, complaining the GMB was guilty of sex discrimination.

37) The Employment Tribunal decided unanimously that their employer (Middlesborough Council) should have eradicated unequal pay years earlier. The tribunal found that the GMB then collaborated with the employer by manipulating members, who had back pay claims, into unwittingly sacrificing their rights - to the benefit of the employer. In doing so, the tribunal agreed that the union had unjustifiably discriminated against their low-paid women members.
The Court of Appeal held that the GMB misrepresented the 'deal' that was on offer from the council and the case has been referred back to the Employment Tribunal to consider compensation.

Retired Employees (1999 Onwards)
38) Since 1999 over 25,000 council employees have retired and many of those individuals stood to benefit from the 1999 Single Status Agreement. The employers and unions were responsible for advising employees of their right to register a ‘protective’ claim within 6 months of the date of their retirement.

39) But neither party took the issue of equal pay sufficiently seriously to protect the interest of employees whose jobs had been undervalued for years, but who were due to retire in the period following the 1999 Single Status Agreement. Employees who retired and made no claim within 6 months are now out of time because of the time limits in the Employment Tribunals. The outcome is extremely unfair on thousands of female employees whose pension and retirement benefits are much lower than they should be. Many of these women spent a lifetime in the service of their local communities.


Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Scottish Parliament - Evidence (4)

Ongoing Issues and Concerns

Obfuscation and Delay
21) Many of the claims currently before the Employment Tribunals have been underway for well over three years. The delay is largely down to deliberate delaying tactics on the part of the employers. When their issues are put to the test they have been dismissed by the tribunals. Yet, they persist in using public funds to delay and frustrate the claims of low paid employees who are simply exercising their right to equal pay under the law.

22) Pre-hearing reviews (PHRs) have been requested by the following councils in the recent past, but all have been rejected: North Ayrshire Council (Job Changes – costs awarded against the council); Falkirk Council (Job Changes); Edinburgh City Council (APT&C claims – costs awarded against the council); Glasgow City Council (Strike Out application); South Lanarkshire Council (Strike Out application). Council tax payers are footing these bills.

Work Rated as Equivalent (WRE) Claims
23) WRE claims are the most straightforward category because these claims are based on the fact that any two jobs that are being compared have already been rated (or valued) under a common job evaluation (JE) scheme, e.g. the 1987/88 Manual Workers Scheme.

24) So, if a female job such as a Home Carer on grade MW 5 is earning less than a male job such as a Refuse Driver on grade MW 4, then the employer has a lot of explaining to do Some councils (Glasgow, Edinburgh Stirling and Renfrewshire) have settled many of their WRE claims – the majority have still do so, hence the ongoing litigation..

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value (EPWEV) Claims
25) EV claims are a major and growing, category of claimant. In this case, jobs have not been rated under a common JE scheme, but that is no bar to bringing a claim. Employment Tribunals can appoint an independent expert to assess the content of different jobs along with their relative skill and responsibility levels.

26) Many APT&C jobs have just as valid claims as their manual worker colleagues. For example, Classroom Assistants, School Secretaries, Catering Managers and Social Care Workers are generally still paid much less than council refuse workers and gardeners.

Protection Period Claims
27) Pay protection is part of the original Single Status Agreement, although protection was intended to operate on the original 1999-2002 timescale. The employers failed to act at the time and are now faced with a dilemma – because by agreeing to protect the higher pay of traditional jobs, councils invite the same claim from female groups whose pay has been artificially held down for years.

28) As a result of a recent decision in the Court of Appeal (the Bainbridge case) women are now entitled to the same rate of pay as the men for the entire length of that protection period. For many this is a further significant claim as it is based on all hours worked and difference in pay between the two jobs.

Male Claims
29) Some councils (Edinburgh for example) refuse to concede the claims of male workers employed in female dominated jobs – even though they have conceded the WRE claims of their female colleagues. So, a male Home Help or Cook in Edinburgh has been denied the same offer of settlement made to female workers.

Part 5 to follow