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Showing posts from November, 2009

Glasgow Update

As reported in the post dated 10 November 2009 - letters have been going out in batches to Glasgow clients for the past couple of weeks - because there are so many people to advise on an individual basis. We are processing these letters as quickly as we can - but routine calls to the office only slow the process down - and divert resources away from the main task in hand. So please try to avoid calling - unless you are raising something urgent or important. If you are simply looking for a progress report - keep an eye on the blog site for news. If you have a query about your letter or personal situation - please write to the Newcastle office with the details - this will allow your query to be logged and checked properly. Lots of people want to compare one person's individual circumstances with another - but this is impossible because the details vary for all kinds of reasons - some of which may be private and confidential. So, our advice is not to swap personal anecdotes - or

Life's Little Ironies

In one of life's little ironies, the public will soon know more about what top bankers earn - than they will about the pay of traditional male jobs in South Lanarkshire Council. The government has decided that UK banks should be forced to disclose the number of employees who earn more than £1m per year - following a report by Sir David Walker. How refreshing and welcome - but how strange is it that one of Scotland's largest councils (South Lanarkshire) - takes the complete opposite approach? The government intends to bring forward legislation - to compel the banks to spill the beans - and, importantly, individual names will be withheld to protect people's privacy. Exactly right - and that's exactly what I asked South Lanarkshire to do in relation to male workers earnings - see post dated 23 October 2009: "Clear As Mud". South Lanarkshire Council refused my request - and their decision is now under appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - but

Falkirk Update

A further CMD hearing on the Falkirk cases was held on 18 November 2009. No dramatic developments took place on the day - although a further CMD hearing has been arranged for 22 December 2009. Behind the scenes, discussions have been held with Falkirk Council - about a possible negotiated settlement of the outstanding claims. Unfortunately, the council side attached certain conditions to their proposals - which we regard as unreasonable - so an 'in principle' agreement on revised offers of settlement has still to be reached. The employment tribunal has been made aware of these discussions - and that a negotiated settlement is still possible. But if the present impasse cannot be resolved - the outstanding cases will need to proceed to a GMF hearing - for the employment tribunal to consider all the evidence and determine an outcome. The aim is still to persuade Falkirk Council to make revised and reasonable offers of settlement - which Action 4 Equality Scotland can r

Second Standards MP in Expenses Row

A second MP from the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee - has been caught up in the seemingly never ending scandal of MPs' expenses. Hot on the heels of David Curry - a Tory MP and Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee who stood down from his post last week - comes Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon. The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that: "Andrew Dismore claimed £34,000 in second home expenses for a west London flat, which houses his girlfriend’s homeopathy surgery, while designating a property just a few miles away in his north London constituency as his main home. Mr Dismore then “flipped” his second home designation to the north London property and claimed a further £31,000 after telling Commons officials that the west London flat had become his main residence. In total, the Labour MP for Hendon split £65,000 in second home allowances between the two London properties over an eight-year period. He also used more than £1,000 i

More News and Updates

Perth & Kinross Perth & Kinross is another council which has been quick to raise procedural points – but slow to actually deal with the real issues underpinning people’s equal pay claims. The situation is similar to Clackmannanshire Council – see post dated 16 November 2009 – and a Pre-Hearing Review (PHR) will be required, unfortunately, before the substantive issues are addressed. A hearing has been listed for 28 January 2010 and will consider the council’s arguments about restricting the male comparators available to claimants. Perth & Kinross is also arguing that the majority of claimants and comparators are not in the same employment.Most are Social Care Officers (or other APT&C-based employees) – while their comparators are Manual Worker or Craft employees. The council argues this should undermine and effectively deny people’s claims – we say that’s not correct. This final point is currently under appeal to the Court of Session. Highland Council Hi

Ten Years on

Ten years ago today - I stopped working for Unison. A journey which began as a union (Nupe) steward at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow ended up - after several years in London - with me as Unison's Head of Local Government and chief negotiator in Scotland. I had resigned from the Labour party a few months earlier and - in doing so - publicly criticised the all too cosy relationship that existed between the unions and new Labour - on issues such as PFI (Private Finance Initiative). Shortly afterwards, my twenty-year trade union career came to an abrupt end - albeit on terms that I was more than satisfied with at the time. Looking back, I can honestly say that I've achieved much more in terms of equal pay - working with Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - than I would have achieved by staying in my old union role. Because the reality is that the trade unions lost their way - pulled their punches at crucial times - and ultimately gave up the fight. The 1999 Single St

Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room during yesterday's Queens' Speech - one of Westminster's great parliamentary occasions - was the failure of Her Majesty's government to mention the MPs' expenses scandal. To the astonishment of many observers - the biggest scandal of modern times just vanished into thin air - which speaks volumes about the government's future programme. Less than six months ago - when the expenses candal broke - Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, no less ruled out an early election - declaring boldly that MPs had no choice but to sort out a mess of their own making. So how has it come to this? Even Sir Christopher Kelly has expressed his disappointment that the government of the day wasted a golden opportunity - to explain how it would take forward and implement his package of proposed reforms. At most, the government has six months left before it must call a general election - but voters are entitled to know how the Westminster Parliament intends to

South Lanarkshire Hearing

The next hearing day for the ongoing South Lanarkshire Council cases has already been advertised - but here's timely reminder. Date - Monday 30 November 2009 Time - 10 am Venue - Employment Tribunal Offices, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS The hearing is in public - so anyone can go along to listen in and see what's happening first hand. If you do attend as one of the South Lanarkshire claimants, make yourself known to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of Stefan Cross Solicitors. The employment tribunal building is just ten minutes walk from Central Station - along Bothwell Street in the direction of Finnieston.

Which Side Are You On?

One of our regular readers has been in touch - about the advice and support provided by the trade unions on equal pay. Apparently, union members in some areas are being 'warned' that the original settlement offers from their employer is the only offer on the table - and could be withdrawn at any time. And to make things even more scary - the union advice emphasises that people could lose everything - if their tribunal claims were ultimately to be unsuccessful. Our reader thinks the union is trying to frighten people into accepting poor settlement offers: "Which side are they on", she asks. "The members or the management?" - and you can see why. Now, strictly speaking, it is true to say that people could lose everything - if their claims fails. But it's no more true than to say that you could be killed in some horrible accident - by stepping outside your front door today. The point is not what might be possible theoretically - not what could happen

Cut to the Chase

Clackmannanshire is Scotland's smallest mainland council. Whether size is a factor is unclear - but the council has certainly been dragging its feet when it comes to dealing with equal pay. A CMD (Case Management Discussion) hearing on the Clackmannanshire cases was held recently - on 2 November 2009. Individual claimants are entitled to attend these hearings - if anyone wants to go along and hear what's happening first hand. The aim in Clackmannanshire is the same as everywhere else - to get the outstanding cases to a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing - which requires the council to explain and justify the big differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs. But that's exactly what the employers - or some of them at least - are desperately trying to avoid. Instead of facing up to reality and the strength of people's claims - Clackmannanshire has been using one procedural argument after another - to slow the whole process down. Maybe the coun

Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise

Having done so little on equal pay - for so many years - the unions are always looking for excuses to attack Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross. The latest stunt is to run a story about union complaints to the Legal Complaints Commission - on the fees charged by Stefan Cross Solicitors - for achieving successful equal pay settlements on behalf of its clients. As ever the unions have plenty to say about other people's behaviour - but seldom their own - the unions are experts when it comes to bankers' bonuses, but have nothing to say on the binmen's bonuses. The fees charged by Stefan Cross Solicitors were clear from Day One: 10% + VAT (11.5% in total at the current VAT rate). Most people regarded that as a bargain because they kept the lion's share (88.5%) of a successful settlement - at no risk or up-front costs to themselves. The reality is that but for the actions of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - equal pay would never have taken off -

The Empire Strikes Backs

Having been found guilty in the 'court of public opinion' - MPs are now fighting a rearguard action in in the House of Commons over plans to reform their expenses. According to press and media reports - MPs have launched a desperate bid to water down new rules on their expenses. Members of all parties have signed a Commons motion urging Sir Ian Kennedy, the new chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) - see post dated 9 November - to ensure any new rules are 'in line with natural justice'. The MPs want Sir Ian to be 'reasonable and proportionate' - and, significantly, to ignore dubious claims made in the past - on the grounds that these claims were 'approved'. Conveniently, this ignores the fact that many approved claims turned a blind eye to the official guidance - which stated MPs should only submit claims that helped them do their jobs properly or more effectively. So, claims for tins of dog food, floating duck hous

Cleaning Up At Taxpayers' Expense

Low-paid women across the country - are having to fight long and hard just to achieve equal pay with their male counterparts - but seldom with the active support of their MPs. At the same time, some women MPs - in privileged, well paid positions - insist on making fools of themselves on the subject of MPs' expenses. The latest is Helen Goodman - the Works and Pensions Minister earning £96,000 a year - who thinks that she ought to be able to claim on expenses - for someone else to do her cleaning. According to the Daily Mail the other day - Helen Goodman says it's unfair to ban MPs' expenses claims on cleaning - because it's women who usually do the domestic work. Apparently, women will be put off standing for Parliament unless they can hire a cleaner on their expenses. The Work and Pensions Minister told the newspaper: "It's really bad for women's representation in Parliament because of the assumptions underlying it. We are not allowed to claim clea

Glasgow Update

Letters to clients in Glasgow will start going out this week - regarding further progress in dealing with people's equal pay claims. As there are so many people to contact, the letters will go out in batches - and may take a couple of weeks to reach everyone - especially if there is any delay in delivery because of the recent postal strike. The letters will give everyone detailed and individual advice - and the letters will explain what to do - if there are any queries or issues that require further clarification. Please put any concerns in writing once you have received your own letter - please do not raise individual queries direct with Glasgow City Council - as this is likely to confuse and delay matters. Every effort will be made to process the letters as quickly as possible.

Glasgow By-Election

A Westminster by-election is being held this week in the parliamentary seat of Glasgow North East - polling day is Thursday 12 November 2009. None of the parties or candidates have had anything to say about equal pay - they seem to have spent most of their time trying to avoid mistakes or gaffes - so it's been the candidates' minders and 'spin-doctors' who've done most of the talking. The contest will elect a replacement for Michael Martin MP - who has now gone off to the House of Lords as a new Labour peer - after the dubious distinction of being the first speaker of the House of Commons to be forced from office in the past 300 years. Labour are favourites to hold on to the seat - but if readers get the chance to question any of the candidates - ask them where they stand on equal pay.

North Ayrshire Update

The GMF hearing involving North Ayrshire Council - due to reconvene today for two weeks - has been postponed. Letters are on their way to all clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland - explaining the significance of this development. Clients will be advised individually about the progress of their equal pay complaints - and further information will follow. So, sit tight until you hear from us in writing - and don't be travelling up to Glasgow - for a hearing that is not now going ahead.

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Why does someone who is performing a 'public service' need to be paid up to £100,000 a year? A labourer is is worthy of his hire, as Karl Marx once said. But is it right to reward someone with such a whopping big salary - when they have enjoyed a good living from the public purse for years - and presumably now benefit from a handsome public pension to boot? Step forward, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy who has just been appointed as head of the independent watchdog charged with reforming MPs’ expenses and restoring public trust in Parliament. Now Sir Ian Kennedy is a distinguished person, no doubt about that. An acknowledged expert on the law and ethics of medicine, Sir Ian previously chaired the Healthcare Commission from 2003 to 2009 and an inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, where 29 children died between 1994 and 1995. But why can't he do the job of cleaning up Parliament - and just get reimbursed for his expenses - why does he need t

Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions

Much has been said - and written - this week about cutting the big high street banks down to size. Apparently everyone now believes that smaller banks are good for us. Because smaller banks means more banks - that have to compete with one another - and the resulting competition is good for customers. The big guy always finds it much harder to beat up on the little guy - if the little guy can just take his or her business elsewhere. So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough. But isn't it interesting that while the big banks are being forced to become smaller - to get closer to their customers - that trade unions in the UK are becoming ever larger and more remote from their members. The latest move towards another super union - see post dated 16 September 2009 - is the planned merger between GMB and Unison - which would create a union of around 2 million members. But Unison itself is the product of an arranged marriage of what used to be three separate unions - COSHE, NA

MPs: We Want £40,000 A Year Pay Rise

Headline of the week must go to today's Daily Express ( www.express.co.uk ) for its front page splash - which says that MPs are looking for a £40,000 pay rise - to compensate for the loss of their allowances and expenses. Now a backbench MPs' salary (£64,766) is not exactly a king's ransom - but it's not poverty pay either. An MP gets paid four or five times more than a Home Carer or Classroom Assistant - jobs that have been underpaid and undervalued for years - and that are still fighting for equal pay in many areas. An MP also gets paid more that a highly qualified Charge Nurse or Sister - one that manages a busy hospital ward or intensive care unit even - one that works unsocial hours and shifts into the bargain. So, before MPs start moaning about their pay - they should take a reality check. Some MPs are very able individuals, articulate and hard working - others give the impression that they would find it hard to chew gum and fart at the same time - as so

South Lanarkshire and FOI

South Lanarkshire Council refused a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request - which asked about the different rates of pay that apply - to different groups of council workers. The council's decision has now been appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner in the following terms - see previous post dated 23 October 2009: Scottish Information Commissioner Kinburn Castle Doubledykes Road Fife KY16 9DS Dear Commissioner South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 22 May 2009. I asked for a review of the council’s initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am therefore registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). In my view, the council’s response is unsatisfactory for the following reasons: 1. The information requested is not confidential and does not in any way constitute th

Damascene Conversions

Some of our regular male readers have been in touch to say that the trade unions are undergoing another amazing 'Damascene' conversion. Having told their male members for years that they have no equal pay claims - the unions are apparently changing their tune - and that maybe they made a big boo boo, after all! Now this is in response to the success of Stefan Cross Solicitors in establishing - as a matter of law - that non-bonus earning men have potentially the same claim as non-bonus earning women - providing their has been an equal pay settlement . The unions are presumably very embarrassed that they told many male members to 'get lost' - when they made enquiries about equal pay. Male union members who took up a claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - report that they were told they had no claim for equal pay - in no uncertain terms - when they approached their union for advice. Now the unions appear to be changing their tune - but yet again they made the wrong c

Unite and Fight

The union Unite is working itself up into a lather apparently - over the proposed ban on MPs hiring family members to run their parliamentary offices. According to press reports - Unite says it will use employment law to protect those facing the sack from 'unfair dismissal and discrimination' Unite represents staff of MPs in the House of Commons and has arranged a special meeting for those affected by the ruling. A Unite spokesperson said: "Whether it is unfair dismissal or discrimination law, we will offer our members whatever protection we can. Family members of MPs' staff save the taxpayer money by working many hours in unpaid overtime. The majority of the public want employment of family members to be transparent and regulated – not banned." Now it's odd indeed to hear a trade union singing the praises of its members for (allegedly) working many hours of unpaid overtime - in order to save the taxpayer a fortune! But what's even more odd is the u

Hitting the Nail on the Head

Every once in a while - newspaper columnists hit the nail on the heard. Here's what Simon Hoggart had to say the other day in the Guardian ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/ ) - about MPs' expenses and the latest revelations involving the Tony McNulty, the 'honourable' member for Harrow East. "They still don't get it, part 873. Yesterday a Commons committee reported on Tony McNulty. He had bought a house in his constituency (Harrow East) and installed his parents there. He paid the occasional visit, although his own home was elsewhere in London. He then charged the taxpayer for 69% of the cost of running the place. Maybe he was just doing in advance what many MPs feel should be done anyway – having the taxpayer fund their golden years. The committee on standards and privileges said that, since his parents lived together, they only counted as one person. Therefore, McNulty should be able to claim half the costs, even though there is only one corporeal McNulty Jr