Thursday, 24 April 2008

Midlothian Council

Midlothian Council is running a series of hearings to deal with the supplemental grievances lodged by Stefan Cross.

The supplemental grievances have been lodged only as a precaution - they are not strictly necessary, in our view, because the employers are very clear - and have been all along - about the points that are in dispute.

The issues raised with Midlothian (and other council employers) are:

1 Why do a wide range of traditional male jobs get paid so much more than their female colleagues?

2 What are the exact differences in pay between the male and female jobs?

3 What levels of bonus payments do the various male jobs receive?

4 Why do only the traditional male jobs receive these big bonuses?

5 How does the council justify the big differences in pay?

Mark Irvine went along to one of the Midlothian hearings - what became clear very quickly is that council officials are going through the motions.

Midlothian has no proper defence and no arguments to justify the blatant pay discrimination that women workers in Midlothian have had to put up with for years.

The council has now released details of their bonus schemes - which show that many male groups have been routinely paid up to 48% bonus on top of their basic pay for years - with the knowledge and agreement of the trade unions.

Yet, the council and the trade unions have the barefaced cheek - to say they believe in equality and equal opportunities.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Job Evaluation - South Lanarkshire

The council and the unions in South Lanarkshire are still unable to speak with one voice about the implementation of the local Job Evaluation scheme.

The council says it has an AGREEMENT with the trade unions on Single Status - and that the unions have endorsed their rather unusual job evaluation scheme.

The unions on the other hand say there is NO AGREEMENT with the employer on Single Status - and that they have not endorsed the council's DIY job evaluation scheme.

On an issue of such importance to the workforce - and union members - you'd think that such a disagreement was impossible - but our clients in South Lanarkshire confirm that the two sides are at each other's throats.

1 If there's not an agreement - as the unions say - then why have the unions failed to challenge any aspect of South Lanarkshire's job evaluation scheme?

2 Why have the unions accepted practices in South Lanarkshire that are so different from every other council in Scotland?

3 Why is the scheme surrounded by so much secrecy and why are the scores of all the different jobs not published - as they are everywhere else?

Answers are coming soon.

North Ayrshire - Grievance letters

Stefan Cross has written to North Ayrshire Council in response to their recent letter to clients - see post dated 17 April 2008.

Stefan's has responded on behalf of all clients in North Ayrshire - so you have nothing to do on an individual basis - other than turn up for any future local grievance hearings that the council cares to organise.

As we said in the earlier post - the council is absolutely clear about the nature of your grievance - it is about the big pay differences between traditional male and female jobs.

The council has no valid reason to ask you for further information about your case - it is just playing games and trying to confuse the situation - but people are now wise to their tricks.

So, don't be alarmed about any similar letters you might receive from the council - just take what they are saying with a huge pinch of salt - and contact us for advice.

If you would like a copy of the response submitted to the council - Mark Irvine can send you this by e-mail.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Job Evaluation - The Basics

Job Evaluation (JE) is not rocket science - it's simply a mechanism for employers' to assess the worth or value of their employees' jobs.

But the employers (and the unions) have an obligation to implement JE schemes in a manner that complies with the law on equal pay - and some basic principles apply:

1 Real jobs must be evaluated - not ones that are made up or invented by managers

2 Jobs must be evaluated fairly and consistently - against objective (not subjective) criteria

3 Employees must be part of the process - fully involved and not excluded

4 Employees must agree the evidence on which their jobs have been assessed

5 The process must be open and transparent - not shrouded in secrecy

6 The results (i.e. pay and grades) must be easy to understand - and freely available

7 The results must also allow employees to see how their own jobs have been scored - compared to other jobs within the wider workforce

8 The process must be reviewed for rogue results and any evidence of bias - to ensure it is fair and non-discriminatory

How does that measure up with the way job evaluation has been introduced in your area?

Over the next few weeks we're going to look at the Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly - in some of the key Scottish Councils.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

North Ayrshire Council - Grievance Letters

North Ayrshire Council has written to clients about the supplementary grievance submitted by Stefan Cross.

The council is just up to its usual tricks and delaying tactics - so don't be taken in by the claim that they require further information before considering your grievance.

The issues are as plain as can be - how does the council explain and justify the pay gap between traditional male and female jobs?

If North Ayrshire does not hold a grievance hearing, that's their look out - but other councils in Scotland are doing so - perfectly happily - and they're not in the least confused about what is being asked of them.

So, our advice is to sit tight - don't worry - and don't respond to the council on an individual basis.

If there is any need to write to the council - as you'd expect - Stefan Cross will do so on his clients' behalf.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Career Breaks and Equal Pay

The Herald newspaper has been in touch to ask if we can help highlight a particular issue on the subject of equal pay.

Recent studies show that the pay gap between male and female jobs is at its widest when women return to work after having children.

Why does this happen?

Well women often reduce their working hours because of child care commitments - or they take on a less demanding and more poorer paid role - again because the family comes first.

Either way the take home pay of your average women drops even further compared to an equivalent male worker of the same age.

And sometimes employers make things worse by making it difficult to achieve family friendly hours - or in the case of Glasgow they just blatantly discriminate against part-time workers, as far as their pay and conditions are concerned - see the post on Glasgow dated 9 April 2008.

In any event, The Herald is keen to speak to women workers who fall into this 'career break' category - and they would like to hear about your personal experience.

If you're willing to have a chat with the newspaper, please contact Mark Irvine who will sort something out.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Council Compromise Agreements

We've had lots of calls this week about whether people in other parts of Scotland can challenge their council's Compromise Agreement - as clients in Glasgow are now doing in large numbers.

See posts dated 26 March and 1 April 2008.

The answer is YES - so long as:

1 The council organised the acceptance meetings
2 The council paid for the lawyers who were present at these meetings
3 The council required people to sign a Compromise Agreement before receiving their settlement

According to reports - North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh Councils did exactly the same thing - and if that's the case, then people in these areas can challenge the agreements they were forced to sign.

The unions, by the way, are not challenging the validity of the Compromise Agreement in Glasgow - or anywhere else - as far as we know.

Taking the Compromise Agreement issue up (for those that signed one) does not affect or slow down other people's claims - these are all still making their way through the employment tribunal process - and many are at an advanced stage.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Glasgow - Pay and Grading Structure

Glasgow new pay and grading structure (introduced in a mad rush in the winter of 2006) is now coming in for some intense scrutiny.

And what a strange creature it is too - like a horse designed by committee - the outcome is more 'camel' than noble steed.

Glasgow - unique among Scotland's councils - has invented a distinction between Core versus Non Core pay. No one had heard of this term before and no one is able to explain what it really means - because no one knows who is responsible for designing the new pay and grading structure.

Anyway, we can reveal that Core Pay has to do with the skills and responsibilities of people's jobs (allegedly) - whereas Non Core Pay has to do with when these hours are worked over the course of the working week, month or year.

More news will follow about Core Pay soon - but to focus on Non Core Pay for the moment - it is indeed a weird and wonderful thing. Remember, the only reason for a new pay structure was tackle widespread pay discrimination - especially against female dominated jobs.

But lo and behold - to qualify for Non Core pay Glasgow employees have to work full-time hours i.e. 37 hours per week - whereas, as everyone knows, thousands of women work part-time hours - and are automatically excluded from the outset.

People working full-time hours get 7 points under the Non Core pay formula - which is worth £800 a year - but worth nothing if you're a part-time worker. As everyone knows, the vast majority of part-time workers are women.

People working 'task and finish' (Task Completion) jobs get awarded another 7 points under the Non Core pay formula - worth another 7 points - but as everyone knows the only people working 'task and finish' are traditional male jobs (refuse collection and suchlike).

No female jobs enjoy these conditions - the women always have to work to the end of their normal working day - and lose out again.

A full-time male worker doing a 'task and finish' job gets 14 points - and an extra £1280 a year - regardless of their job. Whilst a part-time female worker doing a full shift every day - gets absolutely nothing - no matter what job she does.

Sound familiar? Sound like the rules have been made up to suit the traditional male jobs?

We think so too.

Action 4 Equality - London

Many Scots have family and friends living south of the border.

If this applies to you, the good news is that Action 4 Equality is now operating in the London area - helping low paid council workers get what they deserve when to comes to equal pay.

Maybe we'll ask the candidates in the election that's underway for London's new Mayor - what they think of the way the employers and unions have behaved for the past ten years!

London is just the same as Scotland - until Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross appear on the scene - equal pay is a not at the top of any one's agenda - but that's now beginning to change.

So, help spread the word - let your friends and relations know that council workers in London now have a choice - and that they can contact us on 0845 300 3 800 or at: www.action4equalitylondon.blogspot.com

Why are the unions so useless?

Why are the unions so useless when it comes to equal pay?

A very good question - after all it's been unlawful to discriminate on grounds of pay for almost 40 years - ever since the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

In 1998 the trade unions signed a landmark equal pay agreement with the Scottish employers - it was called the Single Status Agreement and took several years to negotiate. So, both sides went into it with their eyes wide open - they knew fine well that to achieve equal pay they had to introduce modern, non-discriminatory pay structures.

At the heart of Single Status was a commitment to sweep away the blatant discrimination against many female jobs which - everyone agreed - had been undervalued for many years.

The unions and the employers both recognised that unskilled male jobs were being paid thousands of pounds a year more than many female dominated jobs - and this was the real driving force for change.

The unions knew that their women members had a really strong case to challenge the old pay and grading system. So did the employers - and that's why Single Status came about.

Yet, the key aspect of the agreement was never implemented. Why? Because it represented (and still does) an enormous challenge inside the trade unions - a sea change no less - and also affected their sometimes all too cosy relationships with the employers.

Achieving equal pay requires a fundamental change of attitude - a culture shift - a determination to put the less well organised and less vocal groups (i.e. women workers and members) on an equal footing to everyone else.

Women are, generally speaking, less inclined to be union activists; many have no workplace (e.g. home carers) or are scattered across small workplaces and seldom meet up; they have more family commitments and less time to make their voices heard - inside trade unions that have lots of political baggage and more than a few vested interests.

The truth is that the ordinary union members (predominantly women) who stood to gain most from Single Status were effectively outmanoeuvred by a combination of union activists with their own agendas and die-hard opponents amongst the employers.

So, a complex equal pay agreement - that was the subject of painstaking consultation, that took years to negotiate and was hailed as a major breakthrough at the time - was allowed to wither away and die.

Until Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross came along that is - now the unions and employers are hugely embarrassed at having sat about on their backsides all these years - now they're trying to do things on the cheap and not as they were originally intended.

But left to their own devices the unions (and the employers) would have done nothing at all.

Monday, 7 April 2008

South Lanarkshire

A CMD hearing involving South Lanarkshire Council took place at the end of March.

The tribunal ordered the council to provide the job evaluation scores for all the traditional male and female jobs - both before and after the 'single status' exercise that took place back in 2004.

Details of South Lanarkshire's job evaluation scheme should have been freely available to all council employees from the outset - so that people can see for themselves how other jobs have been scored and paid.

Openess and transparency are fundamental to any well run job evaluation exercise - or at least one that has nothing to hide.

So, the tribunal's order represents a big breakthrough for the South Lanarkshire cases - the council is still trying to insist that the trade unions have endorsed their job evaluation scheme.

The unions, on the other hand, say that there is no collective agreement on job evaluation - despite what the council says.

Because the unions are scared of ending up in the dock themselves for agreeing to discriminatory pay arrangements - i.e. higher pay for traditional, unskilled male jobs - especially when 'single status' was supposed to benefit many of the female dominated jobs - which everyone agreed had been undervalued and underpaid for years.

But the truth will out - sooner or later - and the recent tribunal order is another big step along the way.

General update

All the outstanding claims in Scotland are still working their way through the employment tribunal process - this has been held up over the past month or so because some councils raised objections about the grievances that were raised to initiate people's equal pay claims.

Our view is that these objections are entirely bogus - but as a precaution Stefan Cross has re-submitted all the grievances again - to prevent the employers from exploiting the situation - although this does not mean that you go back to the beginning again.

Many of the cases are at an advanced stage and are ready to proceed to a GMF hearing - and we are pressing for these to be arranged as soon as possible - it's the employers' side who are scared to cut to the chase as this will require them to explain and justify the pay gap between male and female jobs.

The tribunals have allowed the employers some time to clarify their position (up to mid April) - but that time has almost elapsed - and there will now be a further round of hearings that will aim to bring the outstanding cases to a conclusion.

As soon as there are agreed dates and a timetable for taking cases forward - on a council-by-council basis - we will post the details here.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Acceptance Meetings - Feedback

We've had some very useful feedback from existing and new clients - explaining what people were told by the 'independent' solicitors who attended various acceptance meetings in Glasgow and other councils - see posts dated 26 March and 1 April 2008.

This information is extremely important - because it provides us with:

1) A first hand account of what people were told and by whom

2) Strong evidence as to whether any proper advice was offered at these meetings

3) The basis for challenging a process which - in our view - was not independent
and impartial, as it should have been

The more information we can gather the better - so spread the word to your friends and co-workers today - and pass on details by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com or by phone on 0131 667 7956

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Unison in the Dock!

Sounds like one of those classic April Fool gags - like the one about spaghetti growing on trees - but today's newspapers were full of an extraordinary tale about a union Legal Officer taking his own union (Unison) to court over an equal pay claim.

According to the papers, Unison's Scottish Legal Officer complained that he is paid less than other union officials on the same grade - and he ought to know what he's talking about since he advises Unison on a whole range of legal matters - including equal pay!

A Legal Officer inside a trade union is not a political figure - unlike the party hacks who pull the strings - some of these leading lights wouldn't know an equal pay claim if it jumped up and bit them on the arse!

So, it's good to see someone making a stand against the union bureaucrats - because they're the ones.who failed to get their fingers out when it really mattered.

Unison members in Scotland know how badly they've been let down over equal pay - now they've been joined by no less a figure than the union's Legal Officer. If Unison can't get its own house in order, how can it possibly expect to give a lead to anyone else?

As they say: "You couldn't make it up".

Glasgow - word is spreading

Word is spreading like wildfire around Glasgow about our challenge to the Council's Christmas Compromise Agreements from 2005 - see post dated 26 March 2008.

As part of our efforts to flush out the truth of what happened at that time - we have submitted a Freedom of Information request to Glasgow City Council.

We are concerned that the lawyers who attended the 'acceptance meetings' meeting with council employees were not properly independent or objective about the process - because their firms were being paid by the council and therefore the lawyers involved all had a conflict of interest.

We have asked the council to provide:

1 The names of all the legal firms involved in the December 2005 'acceptance' meetings

2 The names of all the individual solicitors who took part

3 A breakdown of meetings attended by individual firms

4 Details of the costs charged by these individual legal firms

5 The total cost charged by all legal firms instructed by the council

Many people have told us that they were not given proper legal advice at these acceptance meetings - that the lawyers present did not explain the size of their claims or what people stood to lose - but just what they stood to gain.

So, in our view, the process was unfair, unbalanced and one-sided.

If that was your experience, let us know - we are now compiling lists of potential claimants and witnesses to these events in December 2005.

In the meantime, spread the word to friends and co-workers - and register a claim if you feel you were duped or unfairly pressurised into signing Glasgow's Christmas Compromise Agreement.

North Ayrshire - update

A Case Management Discussion (CMD) on North Ayrshire's cases took place at the end of March. The hearing could not make much progress as the council had not complied with orders made by the Tribunal at the previous CMD in January.

North Ayrshire are now in breach of the following 3 Tribunal orders:

1 To provide pay details in the claims where they say the claimants earn more than their comparators

2 To specify their GMF defence in claims where they accept the claimants earn less than their comparators (i.e. how do they explain the pay gap?)

3 To provide scores and grades for all the claimant and comparator posts evaluated in their recent Red Book job evaluation scheme

The Tribunals ordered (at the March CMD) that North Ayrshire be given one last chance to comply with their latest directions - and allowed the council 4 weeks to provide the information in respect of points 1 and 2 - and seven days to provide the information in respect of point 3.

The Tribunal also ordered that the council's defence to these claims will be automatically struck out - with no prospect of appeal or an extension of time - should North Ayrshire fail to comply with the new timescale.

If the council messes up again, we will move straight to a remedies hearing where the Tribunal will decide the amount to award each claimant.