A number of Glasgow readers have shared an email from the City Council leader, Susan Aitken, which is reproduced below for easy reference.
If you ask me, Susan Aitken has set out a clear position which can be fairly summarised as follows:
1 The Scottish Government has no role to play
2 Everyone agreed on a year's worth of meetings
3 Council officials are not employing delaying tactics
4 Elected members are overseeing the settlement process
5 A process is also underway to 'address' the WPBR, pay and grading
6 The Council has delivered, halted the litigation and brought Cordia back 'in-house'
7 The Council will continue making progress towards settlement in the months ahead
So allow me to respond from the perspective of the claimants.
1) The Scottish Government does have an important role to play and has in the past allowed other councils to access additional borrowing 'consents' to help them meet the costs of equal pay. Glasgow has a much bigger problem than other councils in Scotland because it is the largest council, by far, and also allowed this long-running equal pay dispute to drag on for so long.
2) No one agreed that negotiations would last a full year, and there is no reason they should take so long, but the real problem is that after all these months there has been so little progress to report - which is why the trade unions have decided to consult their members about taking strike action if the situation doesn't improve.
3) Council officials are still fighting old battles and refuse to accept the unanimous judgment of the Court of Session which condemned Glasgow's pay arrangements as 'unfit for purpose'. Council officials insist they acted in good faith over the WPBR, yet refuse to explain their role in the WPBR's introduction in 2005/07. At one stage, officials even threatened to impose a 'interim settlement' which had not been negotiated or agreed with the Claimants.
4) Elected members may well be 'overseeing' the process but they seem to be getting fed a very one sided and partial view of the big issues from senior officials. There has been no dialogue between the Claimants Representatives and Elected Members - the Claimants offered to brief Glasgow councillors earlier this year (on their perspective), but this offer was declined.
5) The highest civil court in Scotland unanimously judged Glasgow's WPBR to be 'unfit for purpose' and the Claimants clearly won the argument that the 37 hour 'rule', for example, is blatantly discriminatory along with many other WPBR practices. Yet council officials (and perhaps the politicians?) still argue that the onus is still on the Claimants to persuade the City Council that the WPBR needs to be replaced.
6) The Council made the right decision in halting the litigation, but this has been replaced by a 'slow boat to China' settlement process in which there have been no serious negotiations. Council officials do not accept the Claimants' comparators and do not accept that overtime working or holiday pay have been operating for years on a discriminatory basis. Cordia has been brought back in house which is a good thing, but the officials leading the settlement negotiations created this 'monster' in the first place - and allowed Cordia to treat its workforce as second class citizens.
7) 'Steady progress' is council speak for 'moving at the speed of a glacier'. I've been involved in the equal pay settlement process in lots of other Scottish councils, but I have to say that Glasgow lacks a sense of urgency, purpose and direction. So the omens are not good, unless the process becomes 'turbo-charged' and the council gets serious about compensating the claimants and replacing the WPBR.
Email from Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council
You have forwarded this email to me so I will respond. The First Minister and the Scottish Parliament have nothing to do with the equal pay negotiations in Glasgow, which are entirely a matter for the Council and the claimants’ representatives.
I have been very consistent in saying from the outset of this process that settling an issue that has existed for over a decade would most likely take several months to complete. That is the view of ALL of the parties round the negotiating table – the Council, the trade unions and the private lawyers Action for Equality – and ALL of them agreed to schedule meetings until the end of this calendar year at least. That is a timetable that has been agreed since the beginning of the negotiations and was confirmed in the paper that was taken to Council committee to agree a halt to the litigation.
There are no ‘delaying tactics’ being employed by council officers. A process has been put in place to allow discussion and negotiation on each of the issues and that is ongoing. There has been considerable progress on some issues, less on others. Where progress has been slower, that has been as a result of questions raised or positions changed on all sides of the table, not just by Council officers.
Your representatives, rightly, called for more political oversight over this process as this had been lacking over the past decade – and welcomed it when it was set up. This means that Council officers report in to both a group of senior SNP Councillors, and a cross-party group of Councillors about progress and take direction about the way to move forwards. This is the correct approach which will ensure we all get to where we want to in a manner which ensures that the settlement is fair.
There is a parallel process in place to address the issue of a new pay and grading scheme for the Council and Council officers are ready to begin work on that. One of the key pieces of information they require is a breakdown of what the issues with the current system are and why they cannot be fixed. That information has yet to be received but it is essential. Councillors need to have this information before a decision can be made to ultimately replace the scheme. Therefore any claims that Council officers are attempting to stall or prevent discussion of a new pay and grading scheme are not accurate.
The SNP administration has consistently delivered progress on equal pay over the past year. When I became Leader of the Council, legal action was still ongoing; there was no negotiation process or even informal talks; and there was no commitment to harmonise terms and conditions for Cordia staff. Now, less than a year later, litigation by the Council has been halted by a unanimous vote of a Council committee; there are formal negotiating meetings taking place on a fortnightly basis and the Council negotiators also meet me and other senior councillors every two weeks; and we have budgeted and formally agreed to bring Cordia staff back into the Council and harmonise their terms and conditions.
I have been clear in my commitment to deliver pay justice for women council workers since before the election and I continue to be so. The story of the past year has been one of steady progress towards a negotiated resolution, backed by the democratic process of the Council. This will continue over the coming months until a resolution to this long standing injustice has been found, and we have a clear way forward to ensure it never happens again.
Councillor Susan Aitken
Leader of the Council
SNP Councillor for Langside