Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Edinburgh City Council - male claims

Edinburgh City Council met earlier this month to consider the position of male clients - i.e. those employed in female dominated posts such as carers, cooks and cleaners.

The formal decision of the council was recorded in the following terms:

"To make no offers to male employees at this time but to recognise the arguments for paying staff the same regardless of their gender and to formally record that the Council was committed to being an excellent employer where staff are treated fairly and equally."

Now these are weasel words - the words of politicians who traditionally have more faces than the town clock - and they will provide cold comfort to male claimants who clearly deserve to be treated in exactly the same way as their female colleagues.

The legal action Stefan Cross is taking against Edinburgh City Council will continue as long as it takes. Remember at the start of this whole business councils, like Edinburgh, were insisting that no one had an equal pay claim. So, what do they know anyway?

It's just very frustrating, particularly for the male claimants at the sharp end, that the council should behave in such a shabby way - while having the brass neck, by the way, to continue calling itself an equal opportunities employer!

Nonetheless, we still expect to achieve the same settlement for male claimants in the end - and as soon as there is any further news we will let you know.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Job Evaluation - Friend or Foe?

East Lothian Council has recently introduced a new Job Evaluation Scheme (JES) and has agreed to provide details of the new grades to Stefan Cross - other councils, West Lothian for example, are in a similar position.

The potential significance of the new JES grades is that for years it has been common ground - amongst the employers and trade unions - that many female dominated council jobs have been badly undervalued for years - it follows, therefore, they must also have been badly underpaid.

For example, carers, learning assistants, catering workers, admin and clerical workers - to name a few - have all been paid (for the past 10 years) much less than refuse workers and gardeners.

A new Job Evaluation Scheme can tackle this problem and - potentially at least - level the playing field between male and female jobs - but the big issue is always about how any new scheme is applied in practice.

The devil is in the detail, as always, but in theory a new JES - based on objective and fair criteria, which are consistently applied - is what Single Status is all about - and this is what the trade unions and employers agreed to introduce back in 1999.

But they never did, of course - and they're only doing so now because of the pressure councils are under from Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross.

So, if East Lothian's new grades put a female dominated job on the same or higher grade than the traditionally much better paid male jobs - then the case for equal pay (and back pay) has taken a step forward - because it looks even more open and shut.

The reason being that the employers can't have their cake and eat it.

Because if female jobs are now finally doing better out of the JES process - by achieving parity or better in terms of grades - our view is that it simply underlines the extent to which these female jobs have been undervalued and underpaid all these years!

So, we shall see what come out of the JES process in East Lothian, but there are still big issues with JES schemes elsewhere.

Our view is that many of them continue to discriminate and that many female dominated jobs have not done nearly as well as their skills and responsibilities merit.

Glasgow, Falkirk, Fife and North Lanarkshire are examples of council JES schemes which have failed to deliver the goods - in our opinion - and which are open to further challenge.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Brass Necks and South Lanarkshire

South Lanarkshire is in a terrible pickle over how to handle a new round of equal pay grievances.

Stefan Cross has re-issued these grievances (in South Lanarkshire as elsewhere) to protect the interests of clients - the detailed reasons have been spelled out in a separate letter.

But South Lanarkshire has a particular problem - because it has been pretending up till now that people don't really understand what their grievances are about.

Well we have news for South Lanarkshire - people do understand - of course they do - a child could grasp the point that's being made.

Their grievances are about why groups of traditional male jobs such as gardeners and refuse workers - are paid so much more (thousands of pounds more, in many cases) than cleaners, catering workers, carers, classroom assistants, admin & clerical workers and nursery nurses!

South Lanarkshire now has to decide whether to re-hear all these grievances - and to answer them properly this time.

If they do, here are a few points to bear in mind:

1 Hearings must be arranged during your normal working hours - not just for the convenience of local management

2 You are entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague at these grievance hearings - so buddy up with the person in front of or behind you - and do the same for them

3 Don't put up with rude or bad behaviour - we've had report of managers giving people a hard time. So, if you encounter any objectionable behaviour contact Mark Irvine or Stefan Cross.

What a cheek the council has for telling people they don't understand their own grievances - senior managers must have highly polished brass necks - as they say in the west of Scotland - for coming away with a line like that!

South Lanarkshire employees know exactly what's a stake - because they're the ones whose jobs have been undervalued and underpaid their jobs all these years.

Further advice to follow - so watch this space - and spread the word.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

South Lanarkshire - STOP PRESS

South Lanarkshire has today issued letters to employees pursuing equal pay claims - our clients describe them as "intimidating" and "threatening", which is understandable as they are full of nonsense and misinformation.

Stefan Cross will be writing to all clients in the next few days - as quickly as possible - because unlike the council - we have absolutely nothing to hide.

In the meantime, there is no need to get anxious or upset - South Lanarkshire scare stories about extra costs and so forth - are completely ridiculous and untrue.

So, the message is:

1 Don't panic - nothing to worry about

2 Sit tight - advice will follow as quickly as possible

3 Ask yourself - if there is no huge pay gap (between male and female jobs), why doesn't the council just release the pay information - if it has nothing to hide?

Further news to follow - take heart from the council clutching at such straws!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

South Lanarkshire - Union Doublespeak

A curious feature of the equal pay cases in South Lanarkshire Council - is that the trade unions are not involved in a single claim to the Employment Tribunals.

Nowhere else in Scotland is this true - in other areas the trade unions tend to have far fewer claims than those brought by Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross - but at least they're at the races.

In South Lanarkshire all is sweetness and light seemingly - or at least it used to be - until we began to ask the trade unions whether they are in fact fully signed up to the council's local Single Status Agreement and Job Evaluation Scheme which were introduced in 2004.

All of a sudden the unions are singing a different tune - perhaps because they too could be in the frame (along with the council) for agreeing to a something that turns out to be a real 'pig in a poke'.

South Lanarkshire Council says their scheme has trade union support - but intriguingly the unions themselves are now not so sure. The local Unison branch has issued a letter to members that says very specifically: "..., there is no separate Single Status Agreement which was signed in South Lanarkshire".

And this deliberate choice of words from Unison is no coincidence - because it allows a certain amount of wriggle room. So when the shit hits the fan the unions will simply say, in time honoured fashion, that the council is to blame (otherwise known as: 'a big boy did it and ran away!).

So, is the worm now beginning to turn - are the unions now distancing themselves from the council - as the equal pay chickens come home to roost?

Quite possibly - because at a recent South Lanarkshire CMD hearing in Glasgow who turned up? Not just one, but two senior Unison officials - who wanted to sit in and listen to the proceedings. Action for Equality and Stefan Cross certainly had no objections, but incredibly South Lanarkshire did - and so our union colleagues were forced to leave.

But the fact they were there at all speaks volumes - as does the fact they were asked to leave by their erstwhile friends - on the employer's side.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

South Lanarkshire - House of Cards

South Lanarkshire Council is getting its knickers in an awful twist over its Job Evaluation Scheme (JES).

Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross are challenging the validity of the scheme - we've described it as a back of a fag packet job - a Mickey Mouse scheme, if ever there was one. We've shared our criticisms with the council put the details up on the blog site - see post dated 16 January 2008.

As you'd expect this is not going down too well with the great and the good in South Lanarkshire - because they've been telling all and sundry (for years) that they've cracked the whole equal pay problem.

When - in reality - their chickens are only now coming home to roost.

At a recent CMD hearing these issues were debated back and forward with the council's legal advisers. Because a major reason for our challenge to the scheme is that South Lanarkshire still refuses to explain how it works - how the different male and female jobs are scored - and how male and female jobs can be on the same Band - yet be paid so differently (i.e. the female jobs much less)

And, to be fair, the council faces a real dilemma - because if South Lanarkshire lose this argument, they are - quite literally - back to square one.

If Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross succeed, we will have pulled the foundation stone out of the council's job evaluation scheme - and that's a nightmare scenario for South Lanarkshire.

Because it will be as if the scheme never existed in the first place - legally speaking - and it will expose the council to even more claims.

One way forward for the council is to do what we've been asking all along - explain clearly how the traditional male jobs are paid - and the pay differences between the male and female groups.

In which case we will set aside the argument about whether the scheme is valid or not - and simply focus on its impacts on our clients.

In other words, we will not seek to pull the whole 'house of cards' down - if the council agrees to get down to brass tacks about the real business in hand - which is dealing with the pay gap between the male and female groups.

The Employment Tribunal has given South Lanarkshire time to reflect on its position - and there is likely to be a further CMD hearing in March 2008.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Edinburgh - Male Claims

Edinburgh City Council is to consider the position of male equal pay claimants this week - on Thursday 7 February - see previous post dated 25 January 2008.

As ever, the council hedging its bets instead of doing the right thing - by treating male workers exactly the same way as women, as it said it would back in October 2007 - according to the Edinburgh Evening News

So, the best thing people can do is to contact their own local councillor in advance of Thursday's meeting - and encourage individual councillors to look at the real issues - instead of just towing the party line.

There is absolutely no justification for treating a male carer, cook or cleaner any differently to their female colleagues - and that's what equal pay is all about.

Contact details for all local councillors can be found on the Edinburgh city council web site at: www.edinburgh.gov.uk

If you need any help, contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Midlothian Council

Nothing to report from Midlothian Council on the Employment Tribunals front at the moment - still waiting for the next CMD hearing.

But one of our clients has been in touch to say that council managers are circulating information about their proposals to introduce new Job Families - as part of a wider job evaluation package.

Now Job Families come with a very severe health warning - for all you need to know about the dangers of Job Families - read the post on South Lanarkshire Council dated 16 January 2008.

Job Families are a management device for getting around the real requirements of a proper Job Evaluation Scheme (JES).

Instead of evaluating the demands of individual jobs - as they are done now - the employer simply invents a new job or a new category of job - which may even be an imaginary, amalgamated job - put plainly, a job that doesn't even exist.

The paper from Midlothian tries to compare job families to musical intruments in an orchestra - conjuring up images of a blissful workforce - all playing away merrily in the same happy family.

This is - of course - a completely daft analogy and absolute rubbish into the bargain!

In South Lanarkshire, for example, the traditional male and female jobs have all ended up in separate job families and - surprise, surprise - the traditional male jobs are all much better paid than their female colleagues.

So, just as you should beware of Greeks bearing gifts - you should also be very wary of council managers trying to win you over - with promises about how Job Families are the greatest thing since sliced bread!

Don't be conned - they're not - just ask one of our many clients in South Lanarkshire

East Lothian Council

East Lothian is following in the footsteps of a few other Scottish councils - by trying to frighten and bully its employees into signing new contracts of employment.

The council has been issuing letters in recent days - saying basically that employees must accept the new terms and conditions on offer - or else!

And if you're not used to dealing with this kind of bullying behaviour, it's obviously very intimidating and threatening.

So, to take the stress out of the situation we have prepared a response for Action 4 Equality clients - a copy of which can be sent to you on request.

All you need to do is to address and date the letter before signing and sending it off to the council chief executive - keeping a copy for future reference.

If you require such a letter, please request one from our Newcastle office or send your contact details by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Fife Council

Fife Council has been caught out telling 'porky pies' to a Scottish MSP.

Council managers have - for some odd reason - been advising Tricia Marwick (MSP) that Fife's equal pay claims seemed to have been forgotten and were just gathering dust in some back office!

Thankfully, one of our Fife clients passed on a copy of the correspondence between the council and MSP - and Action 4 Equality has now written to Tricia Marwick setting the record straight.

The truth is that we have written to Fife Council twice in recent weeks - suggesting an urgent meeting to resolve all the outstanding claims and it's the council that's failed to respond - the exact opposite of what their senior managers were telling one of the local Fife MSPs.

So, the moral of the story is don't believe what the employers have to say - they have been telling lies and keeping people in the dark about equal pay for years - and a few more 'dirty tricks' at this stage won't cause them to lose any sleep!

We have made it plain to Tricia Marwick that Action 4 Equality stands ready to meet Fife Council within a matter of days, if necessary - and we have urged Tricia to use her good offices to bring the council to the negotiating table - instead of spreading lies and deliberate disinformation.

So, here's hoping there will be an outbreak of common sense - soon.

Classroom Assistants

A group of Classroom Assistants from Clackmannanshire have been in touch to ask - Do we have a valid equal pay claim against our council?

The answer is absolutely - YES - without a moment's doubt or hesitation.

Because equal pay has nothing to do with being a manual worker - all kinds of council employees have perfectly good claims - although the employers and trade unions are not keen to tell people so - since the next obvious question would be - Why haven't we been told before now?

Equal pay is about differences in pay between groups of male and female workers - no matter what jobs they do - employed by the same employer.

If there is a pay gap - it can only be justified by reference to the skills and responsibilities of the jobs that are being compared.

In other words, the higher pay of the male job is only justified if the male job can be shown to exercise more skill and responsibility than the female job.

But when you look at what the employers (and the trade unions) have been doing for years - they have been ensuring that traditional male jobs continue to do much better than their female colleagues.

Who in their right mind would try to argue that a Classroom Assistant does not deserve at least the same pay as a refuse worker, gardener or gravedigger? See the recent post dated 9 January 2008 regarding comparable rates of pay in Falkirk Council.

So, the bottom line is that Classroom Assistants and many other female dominated jobs - Office and Admin Staff, for example - have just as strong a case as anyone else.

If you want more information or an application form - please contact Mark Irvine on 0131 667 7956 or at:markirvine@compuserve.com