The Herald's Tom Gordon reports on a special investigation by the Accounts Commission which concludes that a 'decade long failure of leadership by local and central government' is responsible for the continuing debacle over equal pay.
Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest, has been fighting a desperate battle against equal pay for the past ten years and its pay arrangements are still shrouded in secrecy - as opposed to being 'open, honest and transparent'.
The Court of Session recently judged Glasgow's revised pay arrangements and its in-house job evaluation scheme (JES), introduced in 2007 to be 'unfit for purpose' - as a result the number of equal pay claims in Glasgow is growing by the day.
If Scotland's largest council can't or won't get its act together, maybe the solution in Glasgow is to send in the Accounts Commission to uncover what has really been going on for the past 10 years.
Watchdog report exposes litany of failures behind £1bn equal pay bill
By Tom Gordon - Scottish Political Editor, The Herald
Glasgow City Chambers
A DECADE long failure of leadership by central and local government has left taxpayers with a bill of more than £1billion for equal pay claims from female council staff, it has emerged.
In a damning study of politicians stalling and ducking responsibilities, the Accounts Commission said around £750m had been spent settling pay claims since 2004.
However a further 27,000 claims are still live, including a recent one from more than 6000 workers in Glasgow which could cost the city £500m, pushing the final bill far higher.
The watchdog blamed “a lack of collective national leadership to overcome challenges and address equal pay issues in a timely way”, with ministers failing to give councils extra funds to help stave off challenges, and authorities in denial about the scale of the problem.
Male-dominated trade unions protecting the higher wages of male workers, often through spurious bonuses, were also a factor.
In order to fix pay anomalies a UK-wide deal, the Single Status Agreement, was established in 1999 to unify pay structures.
Councils were given until 2004 to carry out job evaluations so that women in roles such as caring, cleaning and catering were no longer paid less than men doing equivalent work such as gardening, gravedigging or bin collection.
However only one council met the deadline, and it was not until 2010 that all of Scotland’s councils had single status in place.
Without funds from central government to harmonise pay scales properly, councils failed to make the issue a priority and skimped on deals, sometimes adding to the discrimination by allowing bad practices to continue in order to avoid industrial action.
They also paid 50,000 women £232m in compromise deals to give up claims to back pay.
There were “often of a relatively low value” compared to what they were due.
Partly because many offers were inadequate, and partly because no-win no-fee lawyers became involved, around 70,500 equal pay claims were lodged against councils after 2004.
Of these around 27,000 are outstanding, and new claims are still being brought.
Highlighting the painfully slow progress, the report said: “Thousands of claims currently in the system in Scotland have been live for over a decade.”
The watchdog also complained it had faced “considerable difficulty” due to a lack of good quality data relating to the implementation of equal pay.
It recommended that councils ensure all pay arrangements are fair and transparent.
Commission member Pauline Weetman said: "Equal pay is an incredibly important issue and a legal duty for Scotland's councils to eliminate decades of inequality. However, implementation of equal pay has been a substantial challenge for local government."
The council umbrella body Cosla said it welcomed the report’s recognition that councils had faced “complex judicial processes and huge costs” as they tried to deliver equal pay.
“Councils have endeavoured to settle all legitimate claims as quickly as possible,” it said.
Equal pay campaigner Mark Irvine, who has helped many female workers bring claims against council bosses, said the issue remained a “national disgrace”.
He said: “The report hits the nail on the head. There was an agreement to end discrimination in 1999 and that it’s still happening in 2017 is a terrible indictment of Cosla. Major councils ganged up to prevent low-paid women getting what they were promised 20 years ago.”
The public sector union Unison said the report’s findings were “shocking”.
Scotland regional manager Peter Hunter said: “This study demonstrates the cost of delay and dereliction of duty. If this report compels those remaining councils to resolve outstanding claims... the Accounts Commission will have played a vital role.”
Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: “This is a complex process but far too many people, mainly women in low paid jobs, are waiting far too long for the money they are due.
"The Scottish Government needs to work with councils to seek a speedier solution.”
“It is time for this legacy of inequality to be resolved.”