Monday, 25 June 2007

Game, set and match!

As this year's Wimbledon tennis championship gets underway, we can all celebrate another victory on equal pay.

For the first time in its history, men and women tennis players at Wimbledon will receive the same prize money - no ifs, buts or maybes - women are no longer second class citizens.

Hip. hip, hooray!

So, we should all take our hats off to the old buffers and duffers that run the All England Tennis Club - because they've achieved equal pay more quickly than many other organisations that claim to be leading experts in the field.

Take the trade unions and many of the council employers - they are fond of wearing their political hearts on their sleeves - they swear blind they are equal opportunity organisations - yet for years and years they have failed to live up to this star billing.

National equal pay agreements have been signed amidst great publicity and fanfare - only to be completely ignored by both the employers and trade unions once the dust had settled.

Later still, many local agreements have been reached - often on the back of some reorganisation -yet despite the public commitment to equal pay - many of theses ended up treating women workers less favourably than men. See the recent posts regarding Falkirk and West Lothian Councils.

So, the moral of the story is to take what these self-proclaimed champions of equal pay say with a big pinch of salt. Because actions speak much louder than words - and talk is cheap!

Just as well the women tennis players at Wimbledon didn't have to rely on Scotland's councils and the trade unions to deliver a result.

Friday, 22 June 2007

HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?

In recent days, there have been lots of enquiries from clients asking how they can get directly involved in the equal pay campaign.

If you want to do so, the answer is very simple - go and see your local councillor, MSP or even your Westminster MP - get a few friends or co-workers together and tell them exactly what you think!

Equal pay has already come back to haunt the careers of a few well-known politicians: Donald Anderson (former leader of Edinburgh Council), Christine May (former leader of Fife Council) and Norman Murray (former leader of East Lothian Council). All three stood as candidates in the May elections to the Scottish Parliament - and all three were unsuccessful.

The Action 4 Equality web site has plenty of information about the sort of issues you might wish to raise, for example:

  • The employers refusal to disclose the pay rates of male workers - even though this should be freely available to the public
  • The behaviour of the trade unions - in striking deals that continue to discriminate against women workers

In West Lothian, North and South Lanarkshire - to name a few areas - clients are beginning to get themselves organised and are taking the campaign to the local council.

In small and large groups, people are calling on the local politicians to take a stand - demanding that their local councillors stop dragging their feet - particularly when the largest council of all (Glasgow) has been able to reach a settlement.

All local politicians - councillors, MSP's and MP's - hold regular surgeries or meetings where members of the public can go along and voice their concerns. Details of when and where these local surgeries are held are freely available - here are a number of helpful web sites:

http://www.cosla.gov.uk/

COSLA is the umbrella organisation for Scotland's councils - and their web site has a variety of useful links to individual local councils - there is now a multi-member ward system in place, so you are not restricted to one single councillor or political party

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/

The Scottish Parliament web site has a list of all MSP's (constituency and list members) which provides their telephone and e-mail contact details - if your constituency MSP is not very helpful, you can always take things up with your regional list MSP

http://www.parliament.uk/

The Westminster Parliament provides a useful list and contact details for Scotland's MPs - there is less choice of representation, but some MP's have played a helpful role in raising issues with their local councils - for example in Perth & Kinross.

If you can't get along to see people in person, why not:

  • send an e-mail
  • discuss things over the phone
  • ask them to come and visit you - now that would be a decent service!

If you need any specific help or support, drop Mark Irvine an e-mail (markirvine@compuserve.com) or ring 0131 667 7956

Remember - the political mix after the May elections has changed in many councils and, in some, control has changed hands altogether.

In South Lanarkshire, for example, Labour is still running the council, but only because of the unlikeliest of coalition deals with the Tories - the SNP and Lib Dems are both breathing down their necks!

So, there is every chance you will get a fair hearing - just don't be fobbed off at the first attempt.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

East Lothian - Noses and Troughs

East Lothian - like many other councils in Scotland - has been quick to tell women workers that they can't afford equal pay.

Very sorry and all that, should have done much better and, of course, it won't happen again - but let's look forward, not back and just get on with the job of delivering first class council services. This is the line repeatedly trotted out by senior councilors and officials - when trying to pour oil on the troubled waters of equal pay.

But all too often it's one law for those at the top - while those demanding equal pay are told not to be greedy and not to rock the boat!

Consider then the treatment of East Lothian's chief executive just before the council elections in May 2007. Mr Lindsay was about to retire shortly (at age 59) - but the Labour group (which controlled the council at that point) agreed that he should also receive a redundancy package worth £149,000 - on top of his early retirement package of £200,000 (£150,000 as a lump sum and £50,000 a year pension).

To his credit the lone SNP councillor on the council (at that time) - David Berry - complained about the deal and Audit Scotland - the public spending watchdog stepped in to investigate just what the hell was going on.

Good for them!

Now, in a damning report, Audit Scotland has found that East Lothian Council: "fell a long way short of the standards expected of public bodies" in its handling of this ludicrous pay-off to its chief executive. Read the full report at: http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/

Hopefully, heads will now roll with a new SNP/Lib Dem administration running the council.

The old Labour regime which approved the pay-off is in disgrace - having lost its former leader, Norman Murray who had a very dodgy track record on equal pay - see post dated 16 February 2007. Norman has since bailed out of local politics with a £20,000 tax free pay off - for services rendered over the years.

So has his chum and former Labour councillor, John 'Two Hats' Ross - an unusual character who managed to wear an employer's hat in East Lothian Council for years, while the next minute (or at least a short train journey from Musselburgh), John would pop up in Edinburgh Council wearing his trade union hat.

John has been Edinburgh Unison's conditions of service officer - for years and years and years - with a key role (you guessed it) on equal pay. Wonder what John thinks of all these shenanigans - now he's wearing just one hat and not two?

You couldn't make it up, as they say.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Disgrace in Aberdeenshire

Until the autumn of 2006, Ken Simpson was a leading figure in the GMB trade union - regional organiser for the Aberdeenshire area and responsible for - amongst other things - championing the rights of GMB members on important issues like equal pay.

But according to our clients in Aberdeenshire, Ken was a known bully - who liked throwing his weight around and had a terrible, violent temper if anyone dared to question or challenge his advice.

When equal pay came to the fore - predictably - he did the employer's dirty work by rubbishing Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross - while, of course, vigorously discouraging women GMB members from using the courts to protect their interests - after many years of inaction from the GMB and other trade unions, it has to be said.

Now Ken is a disgraced former GMB official - because he was splashed all over The Sun newspaper last year after conducting a sordid affair with a woman - evidenced by photographs (taken by a mobile phone) of Ken lying naked on a bed wearing women's high-heeled shoes - with only the union logo (aptly titled "GMB - Working for You!") covering his embarrassment.

Ken quietly resigned his job with the GMB after spending a week in prison in Aberdeen - and has just recently been found guilty - by Peterhead Sheriff Court - of abducting a woman and subjecting her to a series of violent sexual attacks. He has been placed on the sex offender's register and is currently on bail awaiting sentence later this month.

Now the GMB - and its regional secretary Harry Donaldson - are to be congratulated for ensuring that this odious character is no longer allowed to portray himself as an upstanding citizen, a workers representative and champion of equal pay.

But why did it take so long - and what must the GMB's women members think of their trade union's recruitment and management of senior officials?

Friday, 15 June 2007

West Lothian - Bigmouths and Bullies

At a meeting recent with home carers in West Lothian, two of our clients described an extremely unpleasant encounter with one of the council's elected members - and representative of the Labour Group to boot!

The councillor made it plain he had no sympathy with the carers' equal pay claims because he told them, contemptuously: "All you do is wipe arses all day long!"

Now this is a vile, stupid and offensive thing to say - not just about the carers, which is bad enough, but also about their clients - whom they help to support, so that older people can continue to lead dignified and independent lives in their own homes.

These words are the words of a bully and an ignoramus - and the women on the receiving end felt they were completely powerless to do anything about the councillor's vile language - or to hold him to account for his appalling behaviour.

Wrong!

No one should put up with this kind of abuse - not for a single second! If this were ever to happen to you, our advice is to complain immediately to:

1 The council chief executive - who has a 'duty of care' towards staff and must take such issues very seriously - in West Lothian the CEO is Alex Linkston who can be contacted at: alex.linkston@westlothian.gov.uk

2 The leader of the councillor's party group (though not all councillors are in a party) - since the reputation of the party at stake - in this case it is the Labour leader Graeme Morrice who can be contatced at: graeme.morrice@westlothian.gov.uk

3 The leader of the council - who has the reputation of the council and local community at stake and who hopefully won't play party politics - in this case the SNP's Peter Johnston who can be contacted at: peter.johnston@westlothian.gov.uk

4 The Scottish Standards Commission (SSC) - a independent public body which oversees the conduct of local councillors and can deal with complaints about their behaviour - the SSC can be contacted at: http://www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk/

So, the bottom line is - fight back, get advice and support - don't let bigmouths and bullies away with this kind of behaviour. The Labour councillor in West Lothian knows who he is and how shamefully he has behaved!

Thursday, 14 June 2007

West Lothian - Hall of Shame

No sooner had the antics of the unions in Falkirk Council been exposed, than the floodgates opened up with similar sorry tales from our clients in West Lothian.

Yet again, the home care service was in the firing line and yet again the trade unions - in the shape of Unison, GMB and TGWU (now called Unite) - helped the employers to frighten and bully their women union members into submission.

The women were told a new shift system was necessary - in future they would receive an 'all inclusive' rate of pay and lose enhanced payments for working shifts and weekends. What they were not told is that only the women carers were being singled out for this special treatment - the male bonus earners were left completely unscathed.

The unions reps - Mike Kelly of Union and Peter Carr-Pollock of the GMB - who are still there today told their members they had no choice - either they accepted the council's proposals or the women carers would lose their jobs!

What the unions should have been doing - of course - was seeking proper advice on behalf of their members and taking legal action - if necessary, for discriminating against their women employees.
The mere threat of legal action would have stopped the council in its tracks. But instead the unions looked the other way and did nothing - which was the green light the council was waiting for to do its worst.

West Lothian Council has also hit the headlines because the local Livingston MP - Jim Devine (a former Unison official) asked a tame question in the House of Commons - inviting his colleague and future Prime Minister - Gordon Brown - to condemn West Lothian Council for imposing new 'single status' contracts of employment on the workforce.

Gordon Brown accepted the invitation and castigated the SNP led council (since May 2007) for putting people's jobs at risk, allegedly. Good for him - because the council should not be treating its employees in such a shabby way.

But Gordon Brown should go a great deal further - he should also condemn the way Labour councils have behaved - North Lanarkshire, for example, has imposed new contracts over the heads of its workforce and the trade unions - and that council has been under Labour control for years. Yet, not a cheap out of the Labour Party, the Iron Chancellor or the local Labour MPs!

The fact is that the Labour Party has dominated council politics for many years - and has to accept much of the responsibility for the 'dog's dinner' Scotland's councils have made of equal pay. Playing party politics is not the answer, Gordon - and before you start lambasting the SNP, you should put your own house in order first!

If you want to share your thoughts with some of the local and national politicians involved in the West Lothian row, here are their e-mail addresses:

Jim Devine - MP
devinej@parliament.uk

Angela Constance - MSP
Angela.Constance.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Peter Johnston - West Lothian Council Leader
peter.johnston@westlothian.gov.uk

Gordon Brown - Chancellor and future PM
browng@parliament.uk



Monday, 11 June 2007

CAN I START A NEW CLAIM?

The phone has been ringing off the hook in recent days with people asking if they can submit a fresh equal pay claim.

The answer is a resounding - YES!

The reason being that all of the councils in Scotland are agreeing to protect the higher earnings of the (bonus earning) male workers for years into the future.

So there is still a big pay gap between, say, a home carer or a classroom assistant and a refuse worker. And as long as this pay gap continues to exist, the lower paid women workers are entitled to claim the difference - which is done very easily by submitting a new equal pay claim via Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.

Such claims are worth thousands pounds, typically, depending on the specific job and number of hours worked - but in any event it's money that's better off in your pocket than the employers. Especially if you have previously been duped into accepting the council's first low offer of settlement!

Everyone who accepted a first offer was forced to sign a Compromise Agreement - and this legal document was countersigned by supposedly 'independent' lawyers who were, of course, hired and instructed by the council employers.

But these Compromise Agreements have all now expired - they had a fixed and limited shelf-life - and those that signed them are free to bring a new claim based on the protection period enjoyed by the men - which is for a minimum of 3 years.

Now the employers and the trade unions won't explain this anyone - after all these are the same people who were perfectly happy to keep the workforce in the dark about equal pay for many years.

So, don't get mad, get even! The word is spreading and if you want to do something about it, we can get the ball rolling in a matter of days - all we need is a name, address and post code - and we'll send you the required forms straight away.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Dirty Deeds in Falkirk

A number of clients from Falkirk Council have been in touch to say that the local trade unions are trying to re-write history and gloss over their bad behaviour on the subject of equal pay.

The controversy has been caused by a recent letter from the Unison branch secretary, Gray Allan - who is now railing against the council, condemning its behaviour, calling it nasty names - and deservedly so - because Falkirk is guilty of bully boy tactics. Falkirk is the only council in Scotland, so far, to dismiss and re-engage its staff on new 'single status' contracts.

But in 2002, Gray Allan and his union chums were only too happy to do the council's dirty work when it came to reorganising the home care service. The (largely female) workforce were told that they had to accept a new shift pattern (4 on and 4 off) and a new 'all inclusive' rate of pay - which meant that they would no longer receive enhanced payments for working shifts and weekends.

At a series of 'roadshow' meetings, all three trade unions (Unison, GMB and TGWU) lined up alongside the management and told the women workers that they had no choice - if they refused to accept the changes and proposed new package - the result would be chaos, cuts and major job losses.

So, the blunt message to the women workers was: "Do as you're told - or else!"

Faced with this intimidation from management and lack of support from their trade unions, the workforce - not surprisingly - caved in and the council got its way. But what the management and trade unions conveniently failed to explain was that only the women carers were treated in this way - all of the male dominated jobs kept their bonuses, shift payments and weekend enhancements.

Now this was completely wrong and discriminatory - and unlawful to boot - but the trade unions deliberately kept this information from their women members, and by doing so completely betrayed their interests.

In 1999, the employers and the trade unions signed a landmark Equal Pay Agreement saying they would end discrimination against women workers. Yet, in Falkirk in 2002 the unions and the employers were quite prepared to treat a key group of women workers in a quite different way to their male colleagues!

Falkirk is not the only area where this has happened - West Lothian, Perth & Kinross, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Fife have all introduced similar schemes - for at least parts of their home care service - with the women workers being forced to make sacrifices and accept changes not even put to the men.

Sadly, this is all too typical of the role of trade unions have played on equal pay. In reality, they are often on the employers' side and they are just keen to keep people in the dark - because they realise that knowledge is power. If women union members in Falkirk knew then what they know now, they would take a stick to the people charged with representing them properly - with fairness and integrity.

The truth is that many trade union branches have become 'chum clubs' - where the same tired old, faces run the show for year after year, after year. These kind of local union branches are moribund, undemocratic - run in the interests of a handful of activists, not the interests of ordinary union members.

So, take Gray Allan and Unison's current protests with a very large pinch of salt. Falkirk Council, like many others, has behaved very badly over equal pay and single status. But back in 2002 the trade unions were part of the problem - doing the employers dirty work and helping to force through deals which blatantly discriminated against their own women members.

And the people responsible for betraying the women members in Falkirk in 2002 - are the same ones that are in charge today. The truth is that these individuals - and others like them - have lost all credibility when it comes to equal pay.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Settlement offers

The process of settling claims in Glasgow is now in full swing - though it's not been without its problems - first there were delays in getting the required information from the council - then there were the usual mistakes, errors, cock-ups and omissions - which are now slowly, but surely, getting resolved.

Nonetheless, for most people things have gone relatively smoothly and many of our clients have been kind enough to pass on their comments - here are a few examples of what people have had to say.

"Received my letter at the weekend, I'm absolutely thrilled at the result. Thanks for keeping in touch with us over the past 18 months, all you promised has been delivered. Hopefully all future negotiations will be as successful." ED, Glasgow.

"I have received my new offer and am delighted. I would just like to thank you personally for all the help given. Thank you for taking the time to answer e-mails when I know you have been extremely busy. Thanks also to all at Stefan Cross." EC, Glasgow.

"Massive THANK YOU from myself and other staff members regarding the recent settlement with Glasgow City Council. To say many of my colleagues are delighted is an understatement." MG, Glasgow.

"Just like to say a big thanks for your help in getting me my settlement with Glasgow Council. As you can guess I am delighted with the offer and have sent my agreement off to Stefan Cross." MC, Glasgow.

"You wonderful people.
Delighted with the settlement. Good work.
You will miss me pestering you!" YM, Glasgow.

The rest of our clients in Scotland should take heart from what's been achieved in Glasgow - other employers can now see that the writing's on the wall - they will now have to think very carefully about how to proceed - bearing in mind the local elections results in May.

You can help turn up the pressure on your own council - by doing what people in Glasgow have done - by keeping equal pay in the spotlight - by seeking a meeting with your own local councillor or MSP - and asking what they are doing to bring about a resolution to your claim.

If Glasgow can reach a settlement, so can other councils - and that's exactly what we are encouraging them to do!