The Story of Glasgow's Fight for Equal Pay
Here's the story of Glasgow's fight for equal pay which I wrote back in 2019 after a major settlement agreement was reached with Glasgow City Council (GCC).
The 2019 agreement covered the period from 2007 to 2018 (at the council's insistence), but brought some well-deserved, long awaited compensation to thousands of low paid council workers.
Sadly, the council's discriminatory pay arrangements have remained in place to this day even though they were condemned as 'unfit for purpose' by the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, in 2017.
Glasgow City Council promised to replace these 'unfit for purpose' pay arrangements by April 2021, but failed to deliver on its promise which explains why the long-running. dispute rumbles on and why the underlying problem is still not fixed.
So thousands of low paid council workers continue to have equal pay claims from April 2018 onwards and will do so until the council finally introduces new, non-discriminatory pay arrangements which, at this rate, could be 2025 or 2026.
So I thought I'd share my own reflections, supported by contemporaneous posts to my blog, on what has been a rip-roaring roller coaster of a ride for the past few years until Scotland's largest council finally, and belatedly, came to its senses over equal pay in January 2019.
The SNP's Susan Aitken played a very positive role, for sure, and I have paid tribute to Susan's personal stance on equal pay many times.
But the Council Leader's initial Twitter assessment rather over-egged the pudding by suggesting that everything just fell neatly and tidily into place, immediately after the local council elections on 7 May 2017.
"My statement on the Equal Pay settlement. This battle was won the day I became Leader of GCC. It's been a difficult journey but I have never once hesitated to deliver pay justice in Glasgow. This is the right outcome for the claimants, the Council and the city.
Now if you ask me this comment is way wide of the mark because the fight for equal pay in Glasgow was won by the Claimants not the politicians - there were still huge challenges and obstacles to overcome after the SNP brought Labour's control of Glasgow City Council to a well deserved end.
3. The outgoing Labour Council had every opportunity (in the run-up to the local elections in May 2017) to withdraw from these hearings and enter into serious settlement negotiations, but chose not to do so on the advice of the same senior officials who had persuaded previous Labour councils to continue with its long-running legal battle (see post dated 05 March 2019 'Glasgow's Missed Opportunity').
4. The first hearing resulted in a big but expected victory for the Claimants, but the real bombshell was dropped in August 2017 when the Court of Session unanimously decided that Glasgow's controversial WPBR pay scheme was 'unfit for purpose' (see post dated 22 August 2017 'Glasgow 'Gets' Equality').
Glasgow's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR
5. At that point the Council was in a position to signal its willingness to enter into serious settlement negotiations and, in my view, they should certainly have done so, given the force and clarity of the Court of Session's judgment (see posts dated 20 August 2017 'Glasgow - Court of Session' and 09 November 2018 'Riddle Me This Glasgow?').
6. Yet, incredibly the Council chose to challenge the Court of Session's decision by seeking a further appeal to the UK Supreme Court in London where the Council set out to overturn the landmark 'unfit for purpose' judgement against its controversial WPBR pay scheme. The decision is all the more difficult to justify given the comments of the Council leader who later insisted that senior officials always acted under political direction (see post dated 31 August 2017 'Glasgow -The Next Steps').
7. I said on my blog at the time that the Council were highly likely to lose this appeal and that it was political suicide for an SNP led Council to be running off to the UK Supreme Court in London, given the SNP's stance on Scottish solutions for Scotland's problems (see posts dated 08 and 13 October 2017 'Glasgow - Court of Session).
8. In any event, on 22 December 2017 the Court of Session unanimously rejected (again) the Council's case and refused permission for Glasgow to take its defence of the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR to the UK Supreme Court (see post dated 23 December 2017 'Glasgow Appeal Sunk').
'People Power' Flexes Its Muscles
9. In effect, the Council now found itself in a double bind, politically as well as legally, because as the largest party but without overall control the SNP required support from Labour, Conservatives or Greens to find a way forward. The SNP administration were very keen to emphasise the need for cross-party cooperation at the time.
10. In January 2018 the Council Leader Susan Aitken put a proposal to the Council's Central Administration Committee to abandon any further legal appeal (to the UK Supreme Court) and instead seek a negotiated settlement with the Claimants Representatives - A4ES, GMB and Unison (see post dated 19 January 2018 'Glasgow Grasps the Nettle).
11. A Single Table (of all the Claimant organisations) was formed and a programme of meetings put in place to take negotiations forward. A4ES represented a large majority of the claimants (66%) and the lead role of A4ES was recognised by the trade unions - GMB, Unison and later Unite as well. But these settlement talks moved at a virtual snail's pace for weeks on end without getting down to dealing with the real issues (see post dated 17 May 2018 'Glasgow - Sham Settlement Negotiations').
12. In May 2018 the GMB and Unison decided to conduct 'consultative ballots' on industrial action, given the woeful lack of progress in settlement talks. In reality these were 'talks about talks' rather than serious negotiations aimed at replacing the discredited WPBR or addressing the big issue of financial compensation for the Claimants - who had lost out big time as a result of working under the WPBR's discriminatory pay arrangements for 12 years.
13. The GMB and Unison ballots produced overwhelming results in favour of industrial action and in response the Council finally agreed to replace the discredited WPBR and commit itself to delivering clear aims and objectives in a further round of 'serious' settlement negotiations (see post dated 31 May 2018 'Are You Listening, Glasgow?).
'Sham' Settlement Negotiations
15. June and July 2018 came and went, but in August 2018 the Council Side suddenly announced that it would not be delivering on its previous commitments - instead Council officials would be working up their own settlement proposals before coming back to the Claimants in December 2018 with a settlement offer prepared 'behind closed doors' (see post dated 08 August 2018 'Glasgow - Sham Settlement Negotiations').
16. Unsurprisingly, this cockamamy plan was denounced 'out of hand' by the Claimants Side as the Council going back on its word for no less than a second time. After considering its position carefully the Claimants Side agreed to take all the outstanding cases back to the Employment Tribunals where the Council would be forced to defend its 'unfit for purpose' WPBR and bizarre '37-hour rule' which was so clearly designed to discriminate against Glasgow's largely female workforce (see posts dated 23 August 2018 'When is a negotiation not a negotiation?' 26 September 2018 'Glasgow - You Can't Have It Both Ways').
18. In the public row that followed the Council leader Susan Aitken made the big mistake by accusing Stefan Cross QC of 'plucking figures out of thin air' over his assessment that the cost Glasgow's equal pay bill could be as much as £500 million which proved to be uncannily accurate in the end (see post dated 24 August 2018 'Stefan Cross is not a thin air plucker').
19. Around the same time, the GMB and Unison agreed to conduct formal industrial action ballots of their members, in accordance with the relevant employment legislation, which ultimately proved to be a real game changer because the good natured strike proved to be immensely popular amongst the workforce and with the wider public as well (see post dated 02 September 2018 'Glasgow - Strike for Equal Pay').
20. The results of the subsequent industrial action ballots were quite astonishing, unprecedented in my experience as former full-time union official and Head of Local Government for Unison in Scotland. Because 98% and 99% of union members voted in favour of the recommendation to take strike action over equal pay for the first time in Glasgow City Council's history - indeed in the entire history of Scottish local government (see post dated 08 September 2018 'First Minister and Equal Pay').
Glasgow's Historic Strike For Equal Pay
21. In reality, the Council leadership and the SNP badly misjudged the strike by complaining that industrial action was unnecessary, that the workers involved didn't really know what they were striking about and that they were being manipulated for party political ends. In their eyes the settlement talks were proceeding nicely and everything was just 'tickety boo'. Yet no one, except the most ardent SNP supporters were fooled by their implausible public statements (see post dated 12 October 2018 'Glasgow Claimants Vs Mindless Sheep').
22. So Glasgow's historic equal pay strike went ahead as planned on 21 and 22 October 2018 and the action was a resounding success. Much to the Council's surprise the city's refuse workers showed solidarity with their women colleagues by refusing to cross picket lines, in the face of management threats to take disciplinary action. This had the opposite of its intended effect by galvanising the strike and the strikers (see posts dated 24 October 2018 'Respect, Glasgow' and 31 October 2018 'More Local Heroes'.
23. Day One of the strike featured a March and Rally to George Square where a minute's silence was held to mark the passing of the claimants who had died, many of them at a young age, while waiting for their equal pay cases to be resolved (see post dated 24 October 2018 'In Loving Memory').
24. The strike was a real game changer and forced the Council to abandon its 'Here Comes Santa Claus' strategy and finally get down to brass tacks. At last the Council agreed to address the big issue of financial compensation for the Claimants who had lost pay and pensions by working under the 'unfit for purpose' WPBR for 12 years (see post dated 29 October 2018 'Here Comes Santa Claus').
26. The only problem was that the negotiating teams gave themselves a huge mountain to climb by trying to achieve a comprehensive settlement in just 6 weeks - after wasting the previous 10 months. Although to be fair the frequency of meetings was increased to 3 days a week and the Council Side did bring a welcome and noticeable sense of urgency to its side of the negotiating table.
27. In the run up to Christmas 2018 negotiations came very close to breaking down several times because the Council proposals came with too many strings attached and, more importantly, the money on the table fell far short of the Claimants Side's valuation of their clients equal pay claims (see post dated 07 December 2018 'Glasgow - If You Want Peace, Prepare For War').
28. In January 2019 the Council had to bite the bullet on whether to put forward more realistic proposals, or face the prospect of all the outstanding equal pay claims returning to the Employment Tribunals where hearings were already scheduled in February 2019. In addition the trade unions (GMB and Unison) had also made clear their willingness to restart industrial action which had given a real cutting edge to the wider, ongoing campaign in October 2018.
29. The issue staring the political leadership in the face was that a complete breakdown of negotiations would force the Council into the nightmare scenario of going back to the Employment Tribunals to defend its WPBR even though the Council leader was 'on record' as accepting that the WPBR pay scheme was completely discriminatory.
People Power Triumphs
30. So in the end the politics of the long-running equal pay proved to be just as important as the legal arguments, as thousands of low paid, predominantly female council workers made their own mark on history (see posts dated 18 January 2019 'People Power Triumphs in Glasgow' and 'What the Papers Say - Greatest Day').
31. Ever since Glasgow's fight for equal pay began (in 2005) I have used the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to break down the walls of secrecy surrounding the City Council's pay arrangements. I did expect an SNP council to be more willing to 'open the books', but to be honest I don't see any significant difference between the SNP and previous Labour-run councils (see post dated 03 January 2019 'Glasgow - Leading the World vs Clear as Mud').
32. The City Council (under the SNP) has a declared policy of becoming a 'world leader' for openness and transparency, but I think it's fair to say that when it comes to the WPBR Glasgow is more like a closed book. I have been pressing the Council to explain the arrangements by which WPBR was procured, implemented, managed and defended over 12 long years - before the scheme was rightly condemned as 'unfit for purpose' by the Court of Session.
33. Yet almost all of my FoI requests have been fiercely resisted by senior council officials, normally on the grounds that providing me with the relevant information would cost more than £600. Ironically this is the same group of senior officials who spent millions of pounds defending the WPBR and whose advice on equal pay has landed the city with a bill of more than £500 million (see post dated 09 August 2018 'Glasgow's Golden Goodbyes').
34. As well as battling with officials, I made a point of sharing my concerns over FoI with Glasgow's elected councillors and the four Party Groups leaders (SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Greens). Yet there has been virtually zero interest from the politicians in rooting out the truth over the WPBR which I find astonishing, I have to say (see post dated 12 January 2019 'Compare and Contrast).
35. Significantly, after all this time, no one has apologised on behalf of the Council to the thousands of women whose right to equal pay was of scant, if any, concern, during the years when the WPBR was developed, introduced and fiercely defended. A period which ran from the autumn of 2005 until the summer of 2018 when the City Council finally agreed that the WPBR was a 'dead parrot' and had to be replaced by new, non-discriminatory pay arrangements (see post dated 21 June 2018 'Glasgow's 'Unfit for Purpose' WPBR).
Glasgow's Politicians - Bravehearts vs Wee, Sleekit Cow'rin, Tim'rous Beasties?
36. Another area where I believe there are good grounds for criticism lies with the lack of engagement on equal pay from well in excess of 100 local Glasgow politicians - not just the city's elected councillors (85) but with its parliamentary representatives - from the Scottish Parliament (constituency and list MSPs x 15) and the Westminster Parliament (MPs x 7). See my post dated 03 September 2018 'Bravehearts vs Wee, Sleekit Cowrin, Tim'rous Beasties').
37. As regular readers of my blog know, I made a point of keeping Glasgow's politicians well informed of developments in the fight for equal pay, but over all these years none have shown any real interest in the biggest ever industrial relations issue confronting Scotland's largest council! Unlike in North Lanarkshire Council, for example, where SNP MSP Alex Neil was regularly and directly involved on behalf of his local constituents.
38. Strangely, Glasgow's politicians were much less keen to stand up and be counted, despite regular emails and Tweets on a wide variety of topical issues - from my many FoI requests to the landmark Court of Session judgment in December 2017 (see post dated 15 January 2019 'Who Guards the Guards?'). The success of the fight for equal pay in Glasgow owed very little, if anything, to the city's local MSPs.
39. In February 2018 A4ES organised a special briefing on equal pay for all Glasgow MSPs and MPs - yet not a single constituency MSP turned up in what looked for all the world like an organised 'boycott' see posts dated 08 February 2018 'Bad, Mad, But Not Despondent' and 28 February 2018 'Why Glasgow's WPBR Sucks 8'.
40. Later that year Glasgow's constituency MSPs were all absent from the March and Rally in support of equal pay on Tuesday 22 October 2018 in what looked like another organised 'stay away'. In addtion some of the more ridiculous online SNP supporters were quick to condemn the equal pay strike as a politically motivated stunt (see post dated 29 October 2018 'Cybernuts, Conspiracies and Equal Pay').
A Decade Long Failure of Leadership
41. In September 2017 the Accounts Comission, Scotland's public spending watchdog, released a major report on equal pay which concluded that there had been a 'decade long failure of leadership by local and central government'. Now I believe this criticism was fair and that it is truly shameful that both the Scottish Parliament and Scotland's largest council have had so little to say on the matter (see post dated 07 September 2017 'Equal Pay - Decade Long Failure')
43. The cost of implementing this landmark 1999 Equal Pay Agreement was put at £450 million (across all 32 Scottish councils) two decades ago - by the council employers and the trade unions, but not one extra penny was provided by the Scottish Government of the day to help implement this agreement. Yet in the year 2000 the Scottish Government agreed to provide an extra £800 million every year to finance the McCrone Agreement which awarded a 23.5% pay increase for Scotland's school teachers (see post dated 07 September 2016 'While Gets What and Why?).
44. The less favourable treatment of lower paid council workers in Scotland continues to this day with the news that Carers, Cleaners, Catering Workers, Clerical Staff and Classroom Assistants have been offered a much poorer 'cost of living' pay increase compared to their teaching colleagues (see post dated 31 January 2019 'Hypocrisy Over Public Sector Pay').
45. The reality in Glasgow is that while £500 million is finally being spent on righting an historic wrong, far more than that sum has already been lost by low paid workers in Scotland's largest council who were initially kept in the dark and then denied their rights to equal pay for 20 years.
46. The attitude towards A4ES has also changed enormously: compare this inaccurate, embarrassingly awful article by Ruth Wishart in The Herald from January 2013 to the much more balanced, pro-women assessment of Catriona Stewart in the same newspaper some six years later (see posts dated 20 August 2013 'Politics of Equal Pay' and 21 January 2019 'Politics of Equal Pay'). Ruth Wishart also featured in a later blog post dated 05 April 2019 'Apology and Correction Duly Noted' after agreeing to apologise for defamatory and untrue remarks about Glasgow City Council's discriminatory pay arrangements.
47. Senior Council officials who should have been protecting the interests of Glasgow's lowest paid employees failed to do so: in effect the wool was pulled over the eyes of the Council's largely female workforce. To add insult to injury some of Glasgow City Council's leading officials went on to be awarded honours for 'services to local government' by Her Majesty the Queen (see posts dated 02 December 2018 'Evidence of Duplicity', 03 December 2018 'Good Faith vs Council Duplicity' and 30 June 2018 'Arise, Sir Mark).
48. Ironically, since 2000 the Scottish Government has spent an extra £800 million every year on the McCrone Agreement which improved very substantially the pay and conditions of Scotland's school teachers with a 23.5% pay increase in a single year. The total 'extra monies' spent since the year 2000 amounts around £16 billion which puts the history and cost of Glasgow's fight for equal pay into proper perspective.
49. The enormous public investment in the pay and conditions of Scotland's school teachers confirms that, for all the brave talk about fairness and social justice, there has been a failure of leadership from central and local government on tackling low pay and delivering equal pay for much lower paid council workers. Scotland's public spending watchdog, the Accounts Commission said so directly in a major report published in September 2017.
50. So the truth is that while lots of people played a positive role - A4ES, Stefan Cross, the trade unions (GMB and Unison) and Susan Aitken all deserve special mention, but Glasgow's politicians and their respective political parties were a big disappointment - along with the senior council officials who so clearly failed to stand up for the interests of the council's lowest paid workers.
51. In truth, the people who won this fight were the women themselves by mobilising as never before and by forging a sense of unity of purpose that proved unstoppable in the end (see post dated 31 January 2019 'People Make Glasgow - Frances Stojilkovic').
52. I take my hat off to them, one and all - for their integrity, loyalty and determination - they will go down in history and rightly so, if you ask me.