Friday, 27 April 2007

Who's in charge - union members or union bureaucracy?

Unison is the largest and, arguably, most powerful trade union operating in the NHS - well resourced, well informed and politically connected, especially to Scotland's Labour establishment of senior councillors, Holyrood MSPs and Westminster MPs.

Yet Unison, along with the other NHS trade unions, is managing to dig a very deep hole for itself over Agenda for Change (see earlier posts of 10 February and 26 April).

Why? Because the principles of Agenda for Change are sound - they are intended to reward people for the day-to-day the skills they use in carrying out their jobs. But the implementation of this new grading structure is being badly mishandled at local level - largely due to a lack of professional advice and support to nurses and other NHS employees.

The fact is that Unison and their union colleagues are jointly responsible for implementing Agenda for Change in local hospital and community settings - decisions are being made jointly with NHS managers about job profiles, new bandings and appeals and so on.

But the unions are failing to advise their members about the widespread pay anomalies and inequalities that continue to exist under Agenda for Change - which means the unions' are really turning a blind eye to ongoing pay discrimination on a grand scale.

So, Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross have called the unions to account by joining Unison as Respondents (i.e. co-defendants) - along with the NHS employers - in Employment Tribunal proceedings that are currently underway in Newcastle.

The reason for this action is that Unison is allowing pay inequalities and discrimination to continue - not just the NHS management - because the unions and the employer are effectively handcuffed to each other on the subject of equal pay.

So, in the eyes of the law, if the unions are jointly responsible, then they will have to revisit and renegotiate the discriminatory implementation of Agenda for Change at local level.

In other words, the unions can't have their cake and eat it. Unison can't be on the same side of the fence as the employer - taking vital decisions on a joint basis - but then wash their hands of that responsibility, if bad decisions are challenged and overturned.

Unison is in the frame along with the NHS employers - to explain why Agenda for Change continues to treat many male dominated jobs more favourably than jobs done mainly by women. The Chair of the Employment Tribunal in Newcastle has put Unison on the spot by asking the union to clarify its position.

On the one hand, Unison's lawyers complain about ongoing discrimination, but as the tribunal chair points out - quite rightly - Agenda for Change grading panels are made up of equal numbers of management and trade union representatives.

Which begs the question: Are the unions defending the joint decisions of local grading panels, or supporting the appeals of individual members - because they can't be doing both at the same time?

Unison and the other NHS unions will face some searching questions - inside and outside the Employment Tribunals - as the issues being raised in Newcastle begin to bite in Scotland and in other parts of the country. Here are a few well aimed queries that will help kick start the debate.

1 How do members know if their own job has been banded fairly, if they don't know the grading outcomes for other (male dominated) jobs?

2 What information does the unions publish about the implementation of Agenda for Change - across each of the Scottish health boards and NHS employers?

3 How can members access this information - and where do they go if they need further detailed advice?

4 What steps are the unions taking to ensure that local representatives are fully trained and competent in the job evaluation techniques that underpin Agenda for Change?

5 How are local representatives appointed - and how are they accountable to the local membership, for the important decisions being taken jointly with local NHS managers?

6 What advice are union lawyers providing - as professional back up to members affected by Agenda for Change?

7 Are the unions and their lawyers accepting the decisions of local grading panels? If not, why not?

8 Are the unions making representations to the health boards and other NHS employers? If so, what are they saying?

9 What is the union position on pre-October 2004 claims? After all claims can be backdated for up to 5 years (to 2000 and 2001 in many cases), but Agenda for Change is backdated only to 2004. So, are the unions arguing for the whole period, or only part of the period, and what advice is being given to members?


If you need further advice on this issue, ring Action 4 Equality on 0131 667 7956 or drop Mark Irvine and e-mail: markirvine@compuserve.com

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Falkirk Council - STOP PRESS

The Employment Tribunal dates for Falkirk Council - scheduled for this week and next - have had to be postponed we're sorry to say.

The reason being that the council failed to provide essential information about its Job Evaluation scheme in time for the original hearing - so there was no point in proceeding on those previously agreed dates.

The good news is that the information requested from the council has finally arrived - this is currently being assessed and will be considered at a new case management hearing which has now been arranged for 22 May.

A new Falkirk Council will be elected on 3rd May - its leadership and make up is anyone's guess at this stage - but whoever is in charge, the council will have to take a long hard look at the mess they've made of equal pay.

The reality is that recent developments in Glasgow will put pressure on Falkirk - and all the other councils in Scotland - to consider how wise it is to proceed all the way through the Employment Tribunal process.

Further news about the Falkirk cases will be posted here soon after 22 May

NHS - Conflicts and Change

Conflicts of interest are an everyday part of life - nothing to get too worked up about - provided you handle them openly and honestly.

Agenda for Change is a good example - the trade unions have a very real conflict of interest - because they're busily agreeing to new bandings and new grades with local NHS managers - but of course the ordinary union member hasn't got the foggiest clue about what's going on - everything is happening over their heads.

Agenda for Change is implemented locally against a nationally agreed framework - but the local unions reps and managers making these decisions are also required to:

  • record all their decisions clearly
  • ensure that that their decisions are fair, objective and consistently applied
  • be properly trained and competent in the Job Evaluation techniques that underpin Agenda for Change
  • provide the information that their members need to understand and make sense of Agenda for Change, both in terms of their own jobs and - just as important - other NHS jobs

But this is not what's happening - new bandings are being agreed locally for female dominated jobs - yet higher bandings are being introduced for many male dominated jobs such as technicians and tradesmen.

Agenda for Change is not about challenging the widespread pay discrimination that still exists in the NHS - in reality, it is propping up and defending the status quo (see earlier post dated 10 February 2007).

Needless to say, these pay differences and discrepancies (between female and male jobs) are not being reported to union members - instead of operating in an open and transparent way, as intended, Agenda for Change has become a closed and secretive process.

The real problem is that ordinary union members are as much in the dark as ever.

To make matters worse - having cobbled together Agenda for Change as a means of denying legitimate equal pay claims - the unions and NHS managers have set themselves up as both judge and jury when it comes to local appeals.

Union reps and NHS managers agree the new banding system on a joint basis - then the self-same group intend to sit in judgment of their own decisions when it comes to hearing appeals.

Now that's a real conflict of interest!

So, Action 4 Equality's advice is to appeal your Agenda for Change banding, but don't expect many victories locally because you are effectively asking the unions and NHS managers to overturn their own decisions. What's happened is that the new system has become the exact opposite of independent, honest and transparent.

And that's why it's vital that NHS staff challenge the unfair and selective application of Agenda for Change - by submitting an equal pay claim as well as an internal appeal.

An equal pay claim takes your case outside of the NHS to an Employment Tribunal - which is a completely independent body - and one that appoints an external independent expert as part of the review process.

An Employment Tribunal will look objectively at the fairness of the process - and isn't compromised by being part of existing management/union structures. Tribunal members are properly trained and will consider any pay discrepancies between male and female jobs - without fear or favour - and whether the rules have been consistently applied.

Now that's how things should be done.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Edinburgh City Council

Edinburgh City Council is now firmly in the spotlight following Glasgow's decision to reach an 'out of court' settlement of their equal pay claims.

Scotland's capital city and second largest council is now between a rock and a hard place - with Edinburgh very much on the back foot, as the old east west rivalry comes into play.

Why? Because the legal arguments about equal pay are exactly the same at both ends of the M8 - there's nowhere for Edinburgh council to hide, which its highly paid, senior officials know only too well.

Some enterprising Action 4 Equality clients have already been in touch with the former leader of the council - Donald Anderson - to ask why he failed to implement the equal pay (single status)agreement back in 1999, as the employers promised.

What they got was the usual politician's answer. Because although Donald Anderson has stepped down as council leader, he is still fighting the Edinburgh South seat as a potential Labour MSP.

The truth is that there's no good explanation as to why everyone sat on their backsides for so long - other than the honest one. Put simply, the employers and the trade unions had other priorities than looking after low paid women council employees.

The employers and the unions talk a good fight, of course: committed to equal opportunities, against discrimination of any kind, blah blah blah. But when push comes to shove they're not nearly as determined or progressive as they like people to believe.

The truth is that the 1999 equal pay agreement was the subject of painstaking negotiations for years and years. Everyone involved on both the employer and trade union sides of the negotiating table knew precisely what they were signing up to at the time. God knows, the discussions took long enough.

So, don't be taken in by their crocodile tears when they say someone else was to blame or that the poor dears didn't really understand what they were letting themselves in for.

The control and make up of Edinburgh City Council is likely to change after the council elections on 3rd May. The Labour party runs the council at the moment and has done for years. A new coalition is on the cards, but exactly who will lead the new administration is guesswork at this stage.

Edinburgh officials have committed the council to a 1 July 2007 deadline for introducing a new pay and grading structure, which is what the council originally agreed to do back in 1999. The implementation date (for the new pay structure) is much later than most other councils, but it is potentially very significant and may well concentrate minds on how to get the council out of its current equal pay mess.

Why? Because Glasgow used the introduction of a new pay structure (albeit on a different date) as the trigger for reaching a settlement of its outstanding claims.


So, it's doubly important now to hold Edinburgh's politicians to account - before and after the elections - as many of them were directly involved in the events since 1999, but all of them will be influential in what happens next. Here are some of the key players and their contact details:

Westminster MPs
Alistair Darling: darlinga@parliamanet.uk
Nigel Griffiths: griffithsn@parliament.uk
Mark Lazarowicz (former Edinburgh council leader): lazarowiczm@parliament.uk
Gavin Strang: strangg@parliament.uk
John Barrett: barrettj@parliament.uk

And some likely winners in the Holyrood elections:

Mark Ballard: Mark.Ballard.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Malcolm Chisolm: Malcolm.Chisolm.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Robin Harper: Robin.Harper.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Fiona Hyslop: Fiona.Hyslop.msp@scpttish.parliament.uk
Margo McDonald: Margo.McDonald.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
David McLetchie: David.McLetchie.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Mike Pringle: Mike.Pringle.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Norman Murray (fomer East Lothian council leader): Norman.Murray.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Margaret Smith: Margaret.Smith.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Odd Allies and Strange Bedfellows

North Lanarkshire won't win any prizes for the council's handling of equal pay, but it has thrown up some odd allies and strange bedfellows.

Take Jim McCabe, leader of the outgoing council. Now Jim is a decent enough fellow, not a political heavyweight, but an experienced Labour party man and a former Nupe (now Unison) shop steward. So, he understands all the issues when it comes to equal pay - or ought to at least.

Yet, Jim's greatest claim to fame is not fighting against discrimination or low pay. Oh no, he is best known locally for dropping his pants at the office Christmas party - much to the embarrassment of fellow guests.Jim followed up this PR disaster with another - by puffing away in his office during an interview with a journalist. Effectively, thumbing his nose at the council's strict no smoking policy and the Scottish Parliament's smoking ban. Guess what made the headlines!

Jim is also leader of the CoSLA Labour group - CoSLA being the umbrella body for Scotland's 32 local councils. In recent months, Jim has been joined at CoSLA by a new chum, Joe Di Paola. Joe has been appointed as the secretary/adviser to the employers' side of the collective bargaining machinery, which negotiates with the unions on a wide range of vital employment issues. Including, of course, equal pay.

The spooky thing is that - until very recently - Joe did exactly the same job for the trade union side and 'led' the negotiations on implementing equal pay (and single status) from 1999 to 2006. Negotiations that stalled and made absolutely no progress under Joe's stewardship. With a track record of failure, Joe has now jumped ship to the employers' side, but his new bosses should remember the old saying: "You can only ride two horses at the same time, if you were born with two arses."

One of Joe's best buddies in the whole world is Grahame Smith, another Labour 'placeman' and new general secretary of the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress). As everyone knows, the STUC is the progressive and left leaning voice of the trade union movement. Needless to say, it's 100% in favour of equal opportunities, equal pay, motherhood and apple pie and so on. And the STUC is completely, utterly and resolutely against any form of discrimination. Oh yes!

What a surprise then that Grahame and the STUC's 'band of brothers' have been as quiet as church mice on equal pay - while one of the biggest employment rows to hit Scotland in years has raged in the press and media. The explanation is that General Council - the executive body that runs the STUC - is now controlled by only four big unions: Amicus, GMB, TGWU and Unison. So, they can appoint someone in their own image - absolutely tame, non-threatening and very much part of the establishment.

One of Grahame's General Council comrades is Mike Kirby - convener (senior lay member) of Unison Scotland since 1993 and key figure in the Unison Glasgow branch. A branch that kept their members in the dark about equal pay for years - then lost low paid workers thousands of pounds, by encouraging them to accept settlements that were worth much less than the real value of their claims.

Would things have been different with a woman at the figurehead at Unison? After all, women account for around 70% of the union's membership and had most to gain or lose. Mibbees aye, mibbees naw. The issue is more complicated than it seems because Mike's former long-time partner was none other than Iris Wylie - head of personnel at North Lanarkshire and key figure in the 'dog's dinner' that Scotland's 4th largest council has made of equal pay (back to where we started).

North Lanarkshire sat on its backside for years, then hurriedly cobbled together a new pay structure when Action 4 Equality arrived on the scene and let the cat out of the bag. The workforce threw the proposals out, following a secret ballot, so the council abruptly decided it would impose the new arrangements - the council didn't need the support of its employees and the trade unions after all. Wonder who gave the council this brilliant piece of advice?

So, the strange world of equal pay is laid bare for all to see - the wheels within wheels and strange goings on that connect North Lanarkshire Council, CoSLA, the Labour Party, the STUC, Unison and North Lanarkshire Council (again).

Scotland is such an interesting place to live and work.

A new North Lanarkshire Council will be formed soon after 3rd May. Here are some of the key players to contact, if you want to make a point about the outgoing council's behaviour.

Rosemary McKenna - a former president of CoSLA who might want to stand up for her constituents, even if it ruffles a few feathers. Rosemary can be contacted at:
mckennar@parliament.uk

John Reid - a big beast in Labour's Scottish jungle and force to be reckoned with, if he wants to be. John can be contacted at:
reidj@parliament.uk

Tom Clarke - Mr Charisma he is not, but who knows, maybe Tom will be up for a challenge. He can be contacted at:
clarket@parliament.uk

Frank Roy - yet another Labour politician with a background in the engineering union (now Amicus). So the omens are not great, but Frank can be contacted at:
royf@parliament.uk

North Lanarkshire's MSPs are all fighting for their political lives at the moment - they are not at their desks, but here are some of those likely to be returned after 3rd May.

Labour
Cathy.Craigie.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Jack.McConnell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Michael.McMahon.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Elaine.Smith.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Karen.Whitefield.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

SNP
Linda.Fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Alex.Neil.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
Michael.Matheson.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Conservative
Margaret.Mitchell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

EQUAL PAY - GLASGOW LEADS THE WAY

Glasgow's decision to reach a settlement on equal pay has put all the other councils in Scotland on the spot.

Action 4 Equality's message for those councils still dragging their feet is: "If Glasgow can do it, so can you. So, let's stop shilly shallying about - the legal arguments are the same across the length and breadth of the country - they are not unique to Scotland's largest council."

Glasgow has done the only sensible thing because the writing was on the wall, if their cases went all the way through the Employment Tribunal process. In effect, Glasgow realised the game was up. So, they decided to bite the bullet and cut their losses.

Glasgow's decision has also shown up the trade unions in their true colours - not as champions of equal pay, but as organisations with too many vested interests and out of touch with their own members.

Action 4 Equality highlighted and explained the big pay differences between male and female council workers - not the trade unions.

The unions still pretend that they don't know how much how much the men are paid - yet the trade unions negotiated the higher rates of pay for the men in the first place, then deliberately kept this information hidden from the women members.


To make matters worse, the unions also encouraged their members to give up their claims for much less than they were really worth - losing many low paid workers thousands of pounds in the process.

So, it's time to crank up the pressure on other councils to follow Glasgow's lead. The make up and control of many councils will change after the local elections on May 3rd. And it's odds on that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive will look different as well - with possibly a new coalition or even a minority government at the helm. In any event, it's all to play for.

You can help us to help you by sending a message to your own local councillor, Holyrood MSP or Westminster MP in the weeks ahead. Information about the kind of issues to raise are posted elsewhere on this web site.

If you need any further help at this stage, drop Mark Irvine an e-mail or ring Action 4 Equality on 0131 667 7956

Remember - "Many hands make light work."

Thursday, 12 April 2007

GLASGOW BITES BULLET ON EQUAL PAY

The breakthrough moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived - Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest council, has decided to bite the bullet on equal pay. Great news for our clients in Glasgow and a huge boost to Action 4 Equality's ongoing campaign.

Details of the proposed settlement have been sent to all Glasgow clients, but we have been inundated with enquiries - so here are the key points:

  • Individual offers of settlement will be made to Glasgow clients in mid May - these will be NET amounts - i.e. after deduction of tax and National Insurance contributions
  • Payment will be made within 10 days of return - but in any event by no later than 30 June 2007
  • The offer will vary according to individual circumstances - hours worked, length of service etc.
  • Clients will receive up to 90% of the real value of their claims - a big improvement on the council's original offer
  • The proposed agreement will settle claims only up to 31 March 2006
  • The proposed settlement reflects the risks and delay of pursuing claims all the way through the Employment Tribunal process
  • Offers will be based on all hours worked including average overtime - another big change
  • A representative 3 month period (April - June 2006) will be used to calculate average overtime. If this period is not representative for any reason (sickness, maternity leave etc), a different one will be used
  • Anyone who has recently retired or who will retire before April 2009 will have this increase in earnings factored into their retirement benefits
  • Claims continue for all Glasgow clients from 1 April 2006 onwards and for at least another 3 years - because the higher pay of the male workers is being protected up to April 2009 at least
  • Unfortunately, the council has continued to deny the claims of some groups of employees which we believe to be perfectly valid - former APT&C workers in non school settings and male workers in predominantly male jobs, e.g. special needs drivers. Also excluded are COT3 clients - i.e. those who signed the original Compromise Agreement in December 2005. All of these cases will continue as before and are not affected by the proposed settlement.

It's taken a bit longer than expected, but the ground is now shifting and moving forward in the right direction.

Action 4 Equality will now be focusing all its efforts on resolving the outstanding issues in Glasgow - while encouraging other councils to follow Glasgow's lead.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

North Ayrshire Council - Another Fine Mess

North Ayrshire is the latest council to shoot itself in the foot, as yet another workforce ballot on equal pay delivers the 'wrong result'.

Council employees in North Ayrshire have decisively rejected new pay and grading structures - proposed by the management and supported by the trade unions.

Sound familiar?

Having spent years contemplating their navels and getting nowhere fast, council officials (and the unions) belatedly sprang into action. But, of course, only after Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross arrived on the scene - and let the cat out the bag by telling the women how much they were being underpaid compared to the men.

The laugh is that these same (highly paid) council officials and unions leaders - who had kept the women in the dark all these years - now claimed they would put things right.

However, things didn't quite go to plan. Instead of a vote of confidence in the new pay structures - the workforce spoke loudly and clearly - and effectively told the council and the trade unions to take a hike!

So, what will happen now? Most likely the council will try to impose the new arrangements anyway - even though employees have voted to throw their proposals out - in a democratic, secret ballot which everyone agreed was an essential part of the negotiating process.

Having danced to the management's tune all the way - the trade unions have shown themselves to be part of the problem - and they will probably be about as much use a chocolate teapot in the months ahead.

But all is not lost - not by a long chalk.

What North Ayrshire employees need to know is that a contract of employment can only be varied in one of two ways:

1 By individual agreement with employees

2 By a collective agreement - via the trade unions

The council cannot unilaterally impose a new contract - without leaving itself open to other legal challenges and penalties in the courts.

The council knew fine well they would never get the support of individual employees, so they went down the route of a collective agreement - hoping the unions' would do their dirty work and scare their own members into supporting management's proposals.

Instead, things have blown up in their face - like an exploding cigar!

Seems that ordinary union members have fought back and refused to be intimidated. Now there is all to play for - and the council now has no option but to go back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Fife Council - bully boys beware!

Fife Council tried to introduce a new (Single Status) pay and grading structure at the end of 2006 - but the proposed new package was rejected by the workforce following a secret ballot - much to the surprise and annoyance of local management and the trade unions - who had both been urging support.

Undaunted, local management are now ignoring the result of the ballot - having originally agreed one was essential for staff confidence in the first place - while the tame local trade union officials deliberately look the other way.

An important safeguard was put in place allowing staff to appeal against their new grades - if they were unhappy with the outcome. But the supposed safety net has been shown to be a complete joke with the release of a letter from the council dated 27 March 2007 which states:

"No information regarding any job other than your own will be provided."

Effectively, this means that anyone wishing to pursue an appeal about their grade and job evaluation outcome is absolutely in the dark - it's the equivalent of trying to hit a moving target while being forced to wear a blindfold. And this from people who pretend they have the interests of the workforce at heart!

The last time a major job evaluation exercise was carried out by Scotland's councils (in the mid 1980s), every single employee had access to a detailed explanation of how their own job was scored and graded.

The information was freely and widely available - it certainly did not have to be dragged out of the employers or the trade unions.

Just as important, employees also had access to the same information for all the other jobs within their council - so that they could make sensible comparisons about other jobs - the underlying principle being that justice had to be seen to be done.

Twenty years on we live in a modern world where freedom of information rules (allegedly) - and where governments at all levels are supposed to act in an open and transparent manner - as the servants of the people, not their masters!.

Yet, Fife and some other councils seem to think they can just make up the rules to suit themselves - as they go along - and to hell with everyone else.

The bad news for Fife is that they will ultimately be held to account by the Employment Tribunals for their bad behaviour - because they are breaking every rule in the book, instead of ensuring that Fife employees have a proper opportunity to question and challenge what is being done in the council's name.

In the meantime, our advice is not to take this lying down - but to fight back and demand answers from the powers that be! A client in Perth & Kinross council has enlisted the support of her own local MP, Pete Wishart, in the fight for fair treatment and access to information - so why not raise the issue in the same way with Fife's esteemed politicians.

Gordon Brown (MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath)

Gordon is definitely 'He Who Must Be Obeyed' when it comes to Scottish Labour party affairs - and a word in the ear to his councillor colleagues on Fife Council is bound to achieve results - Gordon can be contacted at: browng@parliament.uk

Sir Menzies Campbell ((MP for North East Fife)

Sir Ming is old school, a gentleman and a good sport - who will surely frown on the bully boy tactics of the faceless bureaucrats within Fife Council - as the UK leader of the Lib Dems Sir Ming's voice will count - he can be contacted at: campbellm@parliament.uk

John MacDougall (MP for Glenrothes and Central Fife)

John is a former leader of Fife Council - so he knows how things should be done and how they were done in days gone by - John knows where the bodies are buried, if push comes to shove, and he can be contacted at: macdougallj@parliament.uk

Willie Rennie (MP for Dunfermline and West Fife)

Willie is a doughty fighter who snatched a seat for the Lib Dems right under Labour noses and in their own backyard - so he's probably a good man to have on your side in a fight, which is exactly what Fife Council employees are now involved in - Willie can be contacted at: renniew@parliament.uk

If you would like to phone or visit your MP at a local surgery, further details can be obtained from the Westminster Parliament web site at: http://www.parliament.uk/

Monday, 2 April 2007

South Lanarkshire Council

A number of South Lanarkshire clients have been in touch to ask if the council really is part of Scottish local government, or does it operate instead in some kind of strange, parallel council universe?

Surprisingly, the answer to both questions is: Yes!

South Lanarkshire is our 5th largest council, Labour dominated as most of the big councils are, but with nothing much to suggest that South Lanarkshire is so completely different - unique even - when compared to the rest of Scotland's 28 mainland and 3 island councils.

The first leader of the new council (created in 1996) was no less a figure than Tom McCabe - now finance and local government minister for the Scottish Executive. The current leader is Eddie McAvoy, brother of the local Westminster MP, Tommy McAvoy.

Eddie is a very traditional, some would say old-fashioned local politician with a strong background in the (male dominated) engineering union. Eddie has no great claim to fame other than installing a bust of himself in Rutherglen Town Hall, which he wisely agreed to pay for out of his own pocket, after a press furore about the waste of public funds involved.

But it's on the subject of equal pay that South Lanarkshire gets into X-Files territory. This otherwise unremarkable central belt council is transformed into Scotland's equal pay equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle - where the normal laws of gravity and physics cease to operate - where nothing is quite what it seems, for reasons no one can explain.

South Lanarkshire claims it doesn't have an equal pay problem - because the council says it has already carried out a local job evaluation exercise, endorsed, of course, by the local trade unions and welcomed by every single one of its adoring employees.

Try telling that to well over 1,000 clients of Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross - none of whom believe in the Tooth Fairy either!

The council says that jobs are now paid in a completely non-discriminatory way. Yet the pay differences between traditional male and female jobs are as great in South Lanarkshire as anywhere else in Scotland.

In South Lanarkshire, a home carer is paid thousands of pounds a year less than a refuse worker - and a nursery nurse is paid thousands a year less than a council tradesman. Yet, comparing like for like, the women's jobs require more skill, training and qualifications - and carry much greater responsibility.

All that South Lanarkshire has done is to end separate bonus payments to the men - but these payments have simply been incorporated into new higher salaries for the male jobs. So, the women's jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid - in just the same way as other councils.

"Stupid is as stupid does", as Forrest Gump was fond of saying - and this is particularly true when it comes to South Lanarkshire. The council is now desperately trying to conceal the information about what different male and female jobs are really paid - despite the fact that this is information ought to be public knowledge and freely available.

Instead, the council is dragging its feet and deliberately slowing down the employment tribunal process - when it is in every one's best interests to get down to brass tacks. South Lanarkshire is the only council is Scotland not to have offered its staff some form of compensation to settle their equal pay claims.

The truth is that if South Lanarkshire were confident of their case, they would simply publish the information - because this would make or break people's equal pay claims in a matter of seconds.

Either traditional male jobs in the council are paid substantially more - or they're not. If they are, the game is up for the council - but either way the facts should be clear for all to see - so that people can judge with their own eyes.

So, why is South Lanarkshire so frightened to puts its money where its mouth is on such a simple, straightforward question. The answer is that this desperate attempt to conceal the truth - from both the public and their own employees - speaks for itself. The council is running scared.

The trade unions could of course help break the impasse - they could tell their own members what the different male and female jobs are paid - after all the unions (Unison, GMB and TGWU) actually negotiated the new pay arrangements - so they know fine well what has been agreed with the council locally.

But the unions are afraid to come clean - because their women members would quickly realise the extent to which they have been betrayed by their own union reps.

If you would like to share your views on how South Lanarkshire has behaved, you can do so easily by contacting the council leader, Eddie McAvoy, at: Councillor.McAvoy@southlanarkshire.gov.uk

Action 4 Equality intends to make equal pay an issue in the run up to the elections on 3rd May 2007 - and beyond - as the new councils are formed and take up the reins of power. You can help by raising your own council's behaviour with the candidates who will be looking for your votes - make sure you hold them to account over equal pay.