Friday, 28 February 2014

More Kind Words

Readers continue to send in their thoughts on the settlement of equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire and from around the world, would you believe, since some of them have moved abroad since the whole business started. 

Congratulations to you and your team! Keep up the good work.


Great news..led strike back in 1971 for equal pay and we won....


Well done Mark Irvine, great news!


Congratulations Mark! Delighted for you and the women


Congratulations, Mark! That's great news!


Good news Mark didn't realize its been that long. You must be relieved its concluded. Well done


Kind Words (27 February 2007)

Lots of readers have been in touch to share their thoughts about the equal pay settlement that A4ES has reached with South Lanarkshire Council - here are a few examples.

Hi Mark,

Just like to say congratulations to you on the news today, you and everyone else must be feeling well chuffed with the outcome today,

I wonder if UNISON will be in touch to offer you their congratulations.


Hi Mark, 

Just want to say a very big THANK YOU for all the hard work you have put in over the years. 

The news tonight is fantastic! 

With very best wishes


Hi Mark

Excellent news - congratulations to the whole team.


All I can say is that it's been a pleasure to have been of service.

Red Letter Day (26 February 2014)

Today is a 'red letter' day because this is a day I've been working towards for the best part of 10 years.

A day that Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) has finally reached, I'm delighted to say, a settlement of all its outstanding equal pay claims with South Lanarkshire Council.

Now I've said a great deal about equal pay down the years so I'm happy to let the blog site archive speak for itself.

Because I don't feel the need to blow my own trumpet or say a great deal more at this stage, except perhaps to remind readers that there are still some people around who insisted that this day would never come.

Well how wrong were they?

As for me, I am simply over the moon that the A4ES clients who have stuck with us all these years will now get what they richly deserve and that really is fantastic news, especially as the great majority are (or were) low paid women workers.

I have to admit it's been a bit of a roller coaster of a ride at times, but we got there in the end and that's the main thing - that's what really counts.

A joint press statement from A4ES and South Lanarkshire Council has been released and  is attached below for information - further information will follow in due course and every A4ES client will receive an individual detailed letter to explain what happens next.

So for the moment, I'm sure that regular readers will understand that as soon as I've finished this particular post, I plan to head out for a little while to take in the bracing Glasgow air - and reflect on the tumultuous events of the past 10 years.

Because my work in South Lanarkshire is now coming to an end and I'd like to take this opportunity of thanking everyone who helped get us to where we are today.

South Lanarkshire Council, Action 4 Equality (Scotland) Limited and Fox and Partners
A SETTLEMENT on equal pay has been reached between South Lanarkshire Council and the representatives of more than 3,000 claimants.
The agreement follows several months of settlement discussions between the council and Fox and Partners, Stefan Cross QC and Action 4 Equality Scotland Ltd, and has been welcomed by all parties. The settlement was approved by the council’s Executive Committee today [26 February 2014].
Paul Manning, the council’s Executive Director of Finance and Corporate Resources, said: “South Lanarkshire has long been committed to equality of pay for those in comparable jobs, regardless of gender. We are glad to be in a position to continue to lead the way on this issue by settling with these claimants.”
Carol Fox, of Fox and Partners, said: “This has been a complex and long-running case but we are delighted that we have been able to secure a settlement that we can recommend to our clients.
“It has taken a considerable amount of time and legal work to progress a mass settlement for more than 3,000 individual claimants. We will be contacting everyone in due course to outline what the settlement means for them, and we ask everyone for their continued patience and co-operation as we do that in the coming months.”
Stefan Cross QC added: “This is good news for our clients and brings to an end an important chapter in the equal pay issue.”
The full details of the overall settlement will remain confidential.
The latest round of negotiations started last August after South Lanarkshire Council Leader Eddie McAvoy asked officers to start talks with a view to a possible settlement.
Councillor McAvoy said: “The administration has been guided throughout this process by the legal advice we have received, but we’ve always been very clear that any claimants who were entitled to additional money should get it.
“Towards the end of last year it seemed that the circumstances were right to try to achieve a negotiated settlement, and I am pleased that the talks have concluded successfully.”

Equal Pay

The Daily Record comes off the fence over equal pay with this leader opinion column on recent events in South Lanarkshire.

No need for any further comment from me except perhaps to say how sad it is that 18 of our clients have died since Action 4 Equality Scotland started its campaign back in 2005. 

Record View: Learn lessons of gender pay battle


RECORD VIEW says if we want to build a fairer Scotland, then we need to start by paying women a fair wage for doing the same job as male colleagues.

Jean McFarlane (centre) with fellow claimants Liz Liddell (left) and Linda Thompson (right)

IT is an absolute scandal that the battle for equal pay for women is not won.

Despite legislation more than 40 years ago, the gender pay gap in Britain costs working women an average of £5000 a year in lost wages.

The gap is even bigger for women working part-time, who earn 35 per cent less an hour than men working full-time.

In the private sector, the pay gap is 20 per cent and, disgracefully in the public sector, there is a 13 per cent gap.

That South Lanarkshire Council, one of the biggest local authorities in Scotland, have been dragged screaming and kicking to settle an equal pay claim with their female employees is not scandalous, it is shameful.

To add insult to injury, the council blew an estimated £1million in legal costs trying to wriggle out of their obligations to their staff.

And they delayed their inevitable climb-down so long that 18 of the women victims claiming backpay have gone to their graves since their legal action began.

Now the council face a £75million bill for cheating women out of their fair wages. And this from a Labour council who should have known so much better.

Worse still, the council were yesterday trying to keep quiet about the staggering amount of money involved, claiming it couldn’t be revealed for legal reasons. This was utter nonsense, of course.

Fortunately, a number of council sources sickened by this appalling lack of transparency got in touch with our sister paper the Hamilton Advertiser to reveal the figure.

There are important lessons out of this episode that every public organisation in Scotland should heed.

There should be full transparency and equality in wages. You wouldn’t think that needs to be said but South Lanarkshire proves it does.

If we want to build a fairer Scotland, then it starts with paying women a fair wage for doing the same job as male colleagues.

That’s not special treatment, that’s equality.

What the Papers Say

Here's how The Herald newspaper reported the equal pay settlement between Action 4 Equality Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council.

Funny how the Scottish Information Commissioner and the Court of Session get mentioned, but not the UK Supreme Court - although that's the media for you. 

Council settles equal pay dispute

A COUNCIL has settled a long-running equal pay row involving more than 3000 people.

By Martin Williams
Senior News Reporter

Present and former female staff at South Lanarkshire Council had asserted they were earning less than men in comparable, but different, jobs.

The multi-million pound settlement came seven months after a separate case in which the council was faced with a near £200,000 legal bill over a failed bid to block information about its pay scales.

The Labour-run local authority threw out requests for information from equal pay campaigner Mark Irvine. When the Scottish Information Commissioner supported his case, the council appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Session.

The latest settlement follows months of discussions.

Paul Manning, the council's executive director of finance and corporate resources, said: "South Lanarkshire has long been committed to equality of pay for those in comparable jobs, regardless of gender. We are glad to be in a position to continue to lead the way on this issue by settling with these claimants."

Carol Fox, of the legal firm Fox and Partners, said: "This has been a complex and long-running case but we are delighted that we have been able to secure a settlement that we can recommend to our clients.

"It has taken a considerable amount of time and legal work to progress a mass settlement for more than 3000 individual claimants. We will be contacting them all in due course to outline what the settlement means to them, and we ask them for their continued patience and co-operation as we do that in the coming months."

The latest round of negotiations started last August after council leader Eddie McAvoy asked officers to start talks with a view to a possible settlement.

Councillor McAvoy said: "The administration has been guided throughout this process by the legal advice we have received, but we've always been clear that any claimants who were entitled to additional money should get it.

"Towards the end of last year it seemed that the circumstances were right to try to achieve a negotiated settlement, and I am pleased that the talks have concluded successfully."

A report to yesterday's executive committee said that the settlement would be paid from funds the council holds in reserve, with no impact on services, need for asset sales or more borrowing.

Violence Against Women

Sadly, you could write an entire blog site on the way the UK's criminal justice system operates and here's another example - this time about the manner in which courts respond to violence against women. 
Now 18 months in prison seems a ridiculous sentence to me for someone who effectively kidnapped his victim, terrorised and attacked her, and denied his crime until three years later he was eventually found guilty in the High Court.

And this was regarded as a 'serious assault' because Cullen abused his position of trust as his passenger was supposed to be in a safe place, heading home.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the case is that a smiling Cullen gave a thumbs up to his wife as he left the court and was taken off to jail according to this report from the BBC.   

Taxi driver Patrick Cullen jailed for sex attack

Cullen claimed he had "consenting" sex with the terrified woman

A taxi driver has been jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a young woman after being linked to the crime through a relative's DNA sample.

Patrick Cullen, 44, forced his 24-year-old victim to perform a sex act in a lane in Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire, in February 2011.

Despite a police e-fit appeal, Cullen was only traced when a relative appeared on the national DNA database.

He was also placed on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

At the High Court in Glasgow, judge Lord Matthews said the assault was "serious" adding: "The aggravating feature was that you were a taxi driver - your job was to take the woman home."

A smiling Cullen gave a thumbs-up to his wife in court as he was led handcuffed to the cells.

During his trial, Cullen insisted that the woman agreed to what happened in his car and that she "enjoyed" it.

He said: "It was two consenting adults performing a sex act."

Cullen also claimed - despite media appeals and the e-fit - that he had never been asked about the incident until police came to his door.

'Rude questions'

The trial heard how Cullen, of Moodiesburn, North Lanarkshire, had been working for the former Strathclyde Radio Cars at the time of the attack.

He picked up his victim in Glassford Street, Glasgow, in the early hours of 19 February 2011.

Soon into the journey, Cullen - who claimed his name was Gary - began quizzing his passenger on her sexuality and asking "rude questions".

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court: "He was going about how girls have sex, things like that. I felt uncomfortable - I don't like when people ask questions like that."

Cullen then told the worried woman that he was "feeling horny". He soon drove his private hire Chrysler vehicle into a quiet area in Finlay Rise, Milngavie, before halting the vehicle.

Victim 'scared'

Recalling her ordeal, the woman said: "He told me to get into the back of the car. I was scared, but I did it."

Cullen then indecently assaulted his victim and made her perform a sex act on him while ignoring her loud sobs.

She only escaped when he dropped her home and demanded she hand over the £7 fare.

The victim called police and a hunt began to catch Cullen.

DNA was found near the scene and the woman was also able to help construct an e-fit of her attacker - which bore a resemblance to Cullen.

He went undetected until more than 18 months after the attack when a relative - for a reason unstated in court - had a DNA check.

It is thought the DNA had similarities to that discovered at the scene and police eventually arrested Cullen in September 2012.

Voices from Venezuela

In my view the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, is a dangerous demagogue and political charlatan so I'm not surprised that he's taken to calling his opponents 'fascists' and demanding that some of them be thrown in prison. 

Here's an article from the Guardian which highlights why the protestors are taking to the streets in Venezuela and I have to say that none of them sound remotely like fascists to me - more like ordinary people saying they're fed up with the way their country is bring run. 

But that's the whole point about demagogues and demagoguery - it's not about logic, reason or political debate - it's about propaganda, passion, emotion and demonising your political opponents.    

Venezuela protests: demonstrators tell us why they're taking part

We asked protesters in Venezuela why they have taken part in the anti-government demonstrations. Here is a selection of their views

By Philippa LawJames Walsh and Guardian readers
mu6box says this photo was "taken at the peaceful demonstration in Valencia" and depicts the "most prevalent anti-Maduro symbol". Photograph: mu6box/GuardianWitness

Scenes of political turmoil have swept across Venezuela as citizens protest against unemployment, a rise in violent crime and surging inflation.

Demonstrators have also been protesting against the detention of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who surrendered to authorities on Wednesday after making a speech to thousands of supporters.

The government has claimed the protests and clashes are the early stages of a US-backed attempted coup. Recent weeks have also seen pro-government rallies and protests in support of the President, Nicolás Maduro.

Guardian readers below share their reasons for supporting and taking part in the protests. Live in Venezuela? Whether you support the protests or are part of the pro-government rallies, share your views in the comments thread below, or via GuardianWitness.

“It would be easier to ask why we would not protest”

Venezuelans have a million reasons to protest. We have one of the highest murder rates in the world – two people per hour – rampant inflation at a rate of 60% a year, basic products like milk, oil, sugar, chicken are not available in supermarkets, if we want to travel we have to go through a bureaucratic nightmare to be able to buy foreign currency limited to less than £2000 a year, we have no liberty of expression if we do not concur with the governments ideas we are completely ignored. We are protesting for our lives and our dignity.


“Scarcity of everyday goods is raising, corruption is rampant...”

Official numbers put 2013 inflation rate at around 56% and murder casualties at more than 24000, two numbers that have only increased during 15 years. Scarcity of everyday goods is raising, corruption is rampant... but instead of listening to the protests who very accurately point at the government, what we have gotten is repressive use of the public force AND armed civil gangs which has resulted in at least 6 deaths, hundreds of injured and dozens of students in jail. All of this has been silenced from national media because of heavy censorship.We’re sick of hearing this sorry excuse for a president to blame “the Empire” and the “far-right” as culprits of his own mess.

Julio Gutierrez

“The reality is it is becoming a failed state”

I have lived in Venezuela for 19 years and seen many opposition and government marches. Violence is actually not that common but escalates when the opposition grows. The present reason for demonstrations is caused by the mismanagement of the oil revenue which is quite considerable along with corruption and has been going on for years.

There are many shortages and rationing... you cannot find margarine, sugar, P.A.N arena (maize), flour, toilet paper, washing up liquid, bleach, and milk and bread are rationed from shop owners. Cement, car parts, foreign goods too. It is almost impossible to buy an international air ticket as airlines have not been allowed to change the soft Bolivar for hard currency so they don’t sell tickets in Venezuela but you can buy the same flights in dollars at the arrival location.

Jobs are few and a reasonable salary is about £50/month... people are a lot worse off due to inflation and devaluation. Crime and the murder rate are one of the highest in the world.

Venezuelan people, all of them want and deserve better. Everyone is complaining, including government tied voters.

Finally Venezuela politics does not fit “left or right wing”. Venezuela severely lacks both capitalism (business) and socialism (social benefits) and the reality is it is becoming a failed state.


“This is about power and dictatorship”

After Hugo Chavez was elected president, we started a journey of lies, manipulations and abuse of power. The last presidential elections in Venezuela was full of illegalities and, with it, we have lived a year of severe inflation, food and medicine shortages, impunity, negligence, high rates of murders and much more. The reaction of the government has been always to pretend that nothing is going on or to blame opposition of everything, but we just got fed up with being abused and threatened.

I have been robbed twice, I cannot find basic products in the supermarkets such as milk, toilet paper and chicken, I have to ask my friends to buy my medicine (for hypothyroidism) abroad, if I take public transportation I could be robbed by young thieves asking for money (forcing you to give them a “contribution” or suffer the consequences), I can buy red meat one week, let’s say at 5 GB pounds, and the next week I have to pay 8 GB pounds, and so on. Students have been stolen, threatened and even raped within the universities and that is why they decided to massively protest against the situation. During the protest, Venezuelan “special” forces shoot against them and killed and hurt students while they were running for their lives. The reaction of the government was to blame opposition for promoting violence against them. They never assume the responsibility about nothing.

Nere Márquez

Spitting Image (12 November 2013)

Anyone looking for confirmation that Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, is nothing more that a political snake-oil salesman should consider his latest crazy antics - his claim, for example, that a 'miraculous' image of Hugo Chavez (his mentor and predecessor) appeared on the wall of an underground construction site.

Now I've posted the 'miraculous' image with this post and have to say that I can't see this as the 'spitting image' of Hugo Chavez - no matter how hard I try.

In fact it looks at best to me like one of those misshapen vegetables that attract publicity from time-to-time as loosely resemble a human face - good for a laugh perhaps, but that's all.

Yet Nicolas is keen on interpreting this as another miracle, a sign that Hugo Chavez is somehow watching over his country and giving his blessing from beyond the grave to the increasingly wacky Maduro administration - which has price inflation running at an astonishing 50%. 

Now Nicolas is a 'socialist' politician of course, but he seems more than happy to inject a little voodoo into his pitch to the voters - many of whom are deeply religious.  

Which is a load of old bollix, if you ask me - and while you would think that no socialist worth their salt would indulge in this kind of mumbo jumbo, President Maduro appears unabashed.

So, I would not be in the least surprised if he is carted off by men in white coats any day now - or perhaps even the military - because there seems little doubt that the President is losing the plot.   

Here's a report on the 'Chavez is everywhere' story from the Telegraph newspaper - which made me laugh out loud. 
Hugo Chavez 'appears' on construction site wall

President Nicolas Maduro claims marks on a wall are the image of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez

Stories of Chavez appearances draw mockery from the roughly half of Venezuelans who do not support Mr Maduro Photo: Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said an image of his political idol and predecessor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, had appeared miraculously in the wall of an underground construction site.

Since his death from cancer earlier this year, Chavez has taken on mythical proportions for supporters, and Mr Maduro has spoken of seeing his former mentor's spirit several times, including in the shape of a bird.

In the latest incident, Mr Maduro said Chavez's face briefly appeared to workers building a subway line in Caracas in the middle of the night.

"My hair stands on end just telling you about it," Mr Maduro said on state TV late, showing a photo of a white-plaster wall with marks that appear like eyes and a nose.

"Who is that face? That gaze is the gaze of the fatherland that is everywhere around us, including in inexplicable phenomena," added Mr Maduro, who won an April election to replace Chavez after his 14-year presidency.

Mr Maduro's reverence for Chavez plays well with government supporters, who treat the charismatic former leader's memory with religious adoration. The 50-year-old Maduro, who mixes Catholic beliefs with a penchant for Asian spirituality, has been a devoted personal follower of Chavez since first meeting him at a jail in 1993.

Workers took the photo with a mobile phone during the image's brief appearance, the president added.

"Just as it appeared, so it disappeared. So you see, what you say is right, Chavez is everywhere, we are Chavez, you are Chavez," Mr Maduro said during an event on live TV.

Stories of Chavez appearances draw mockery, however, from the roughly half of Venezuelans who do not support Mr Maduro. Many of them regard him as a buffoon riding on Chavez's image and causing embarrassment for Venezuela's international standing.

Both sides are gearing up for local elections in December that will be a major test of Mr Maduro's standing in the OPEC nation of 29 million people. Rampant violent crime and economic problems are the main issues taxing voters.

The president's first six months in office have been characterized by dozens of accusations ranging from assassination and coup plots to sabotage of the power grid. Critics say that is a smokescreen to cover up domestic problems.

Edited by Bonnie Malkin

Sleep Disorder (19 October 2013)

I've been taking a keen interest in what's going on in Venezuela these days as I'm fascinated by the rise to power of President Nicolas Maduro to power - because I'm convinced he's a political panhandler, a phoney or as we might say here in Scotland a complete chancer.

My reason for saying this is that the Venezuelan Maduro sees 'dead people' when it suits his purpose and one in particular - his predecessor Hugo Chavez who appeared to him in the form of a little bird at the height of the presidential election.  

But this kind of shameless behaviour has continued with the new President letting it be known that he beds down frequently in the mausoleum where Hugo Chavez's remains have been paid to rest - in the Mountain Barracks which is a 19th century fort in a run-down areas of Caracas.  

Apparently, the 'Great Leader's' tomb is housed in the ornate central atrium of the military barracks and is now guarded - around the clock - by soldiers replete with red and yellow hussars uniforms and swords, although what Hugo Chavez is being protected from is anyone's guess. 

President Maduro 'slipped out' this revelation, quite deliberately of course,  and announced portentously to his people

"I sometimes come at night. At times, many times, I sleep here. We enter at night and we stay to sleep. At night we reflect on things here."

The royal 'we' in this case is the president's entourage who join him in the mausoleum, but it's all clearly just a silly political stunt designed to reinforce the personality cult that grew up around Hugo Chavez - in the hope that some of this will rub off on Maduro.

The latest wheeze from the new President is to ask parliament to grant him special powers - so that Nicolas can govern by Presidential decree for up to three years - allegedly to tackle corruption and economic sabotage.   

Yet the language used by President Maduro in seeking these new powers is very revealing and in a three-hour speech to the Parliament  he reportedly called it a "matter of life or death" for the country's socialist revolution, before adding:

"If corruption keeps expanding and perpetuating its destructive capitalist logic, there will be no socialism here."

Now the problem with this kind of overblown rhetoric is that it's empty-headed, rabble-rousing nonsense of course - since all kinds of people around the world will tell you that 'capitalist' countries have no monopoly on political corruption.

If politics has taught me anything, it's that people with 'left' or 'right' wing views are both very  capable of behaving very badly - and that by and large it's bad for democracy and the body politic for any one person or party to remain in power for too long - because as the saying goes 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely'.  

Looney Tunes (7 May 2013)

A few weeks ago, the acting President of Venezuela - Nicolas Maduro - told the world that the former President of Venezuela - Hugo Chavez - had appeared to him during the presidential election campaign in the form of a little bird.

Now at the time I said Nicolas was either bonkers or a complete charlatan - and evidence in support of my statement continues to pile up as the Venezuelan leader sees plots around every corner.

Is the President paranoid?, seems a fair question to ask in the circumstances - but I think not, I suspect it's all just a cynical political act.

The latest claim from Nicolas Maduro is that he is the target of an alleged Colombian plot to  assassinate the Venezuelan President - an incendiary charge to make towards a neighbour and one for which Nicolas has not a shred of evidence to back up his claim.

Just like Hugo Chavez appearing to him in the form of a little bird - it's an emotional appeal that's designed to exploit people's feelings - their sense of loss over Chavez and now their sense of resentment towards a neighbouring country, Colombia.

So the newly elected President Maduro has accused former Colombian leader - Alvaro Uribe - of plotting to assassinate him - and Nicolas has alleged other conspiracies against him since taking over from the late Hugo Chavez - and winning disputed elections last month.

The BBC reported Maduro as saying last week:

"Uribe is behind a plot to kill me. Uribe is a killer. I have enough evidence of who is conspiring, and there are sectors of the Venezuelan right involved."

Yet, conveniently, no evidence has been produced - and this latest outburst seems like yet another inflammatory attempt by Maduro to portray his critics variously as  killers, traitors, fascists and bogeymen.

Meanwhile, Mr Uribe responded by describing President Maduro as 'immature' - which seems an very apt description to me of a new President who appears to be way, way out of his depth.