Monday, 23 June 2008

Pay Battle - Confusion Reigns

Unison is currently balloting members in Scotland over plans to strike in support of a pay claim - union leaders having already rejected a 2.5% offer from the employers - for each of the next three years.

Meanwhile, the pay campaign has delivered a nightmare result south of the border - as Unison members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted to support industrial action by a narrow margin of 55% to 45%.

But what the Unison press statement fails to mention - surprise, surprise - is the low turnout of only 27%. So almost three quarters of the members didn't even bother to vote - out of the total local government membership of 600,00.

But, the key point is that less than 90,000 members have voted in favour of industrial action - with over 500,000 (85%) voting against or voting with their feet by not taking part. In other walks of life this would rightly be seen as the tail wagging the dog - as opposed to a mandate for manning the barricades.

Back in Scotland, nerves are fraying - as the phoney war continues and the combatants square up to each other. Unison has accused COSLA (the employers organisation) of cancelling a scheduled negotiating meeting - in retaliation union members are going to vent their spleen by lobbying the employers (who won't be there anyway) in order to teach the scoundrels a lesson.

Confused? You soon will be!

Because the employers side is trying to pour oil on troubled waters - with COSLA spokesperson Joe Di Paola telling the press: "The unions will have to bring a sense of realism to their claim."

The irony is that, until recently, Joe was on the other side of the fence - acting as the Unison spokesperson on the annual pay negotiations and equal pay - leading a doomed national strike on behalf of nursery nurses - and generally urging the employers to meet the reasonable demands of serious minded union negotiators.

Now if this were to be made into a movie, what would a good title be? My own suggestion is: "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World!"

Thursday, 19 June 2008

MPs, MSPs and local councillors

Jim Devine - the MP for Livingston - has thrown his weight behind our efforts to get West Lothian Council to face up to its responsibilities on equal pay.

Jim is urging the council - in parliamentary language, of course - to get its finger out and settle all the outstanding equal pay claims. Speaking recently, Jim said:

"Female dominated fields of employment such as Home Caring have long been undervalued. However, ten years on from the landmark Single Status agreement, some workers are still discriminated against and nearly 300 cases with West Lothian Council are still outstanding".

"West Lothian Council should either defend these cases in Employment Tribunals or reach a negotiated settlement as councils in Glasgow and Edinburgh have".

"I would urge the Council to bring matters to a head as soon as possible. The present situation is not good for staff morale and should not be allowed to continue"

So, there you are - an MP who has come off the fence, stood up for what's right - and made a stand on behalf of his local constituents.

Other MPs, MSPs and indeed local councillors are perfectly able to do the same - the employers should either put up or shut up by defending the outstanding claims - and the more people who tell them that, the better things will be for all concerned.


If you need help in contacting your local MP, MSP or councillor - drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com



Thursday, 12 June 2008

Union advice and representation

We regularly receive enquiries from clients about union advice and representation - because the unions sometimes behave very badly when members vote with their feet - by pursuing an equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.

Now a certain amount of churlishness is only human - because union noses are seriously out of joint and - like anyone else - they don't like being shown up in a bad light.

But sometimes local union reps take things too far - they become vindictive and try to make life difficult - by telling their members that they won't be entitled to any advice or representation - even on matters completely unrelated to equal pay - if they take up with Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.

If that happens, the union people concerned are overstepping the mark - big time - because members are entitled to advice and representation under union rule - and these rights can't be withdrawn in an arbitrary way by some branch official who's in a giant huff.

So, if you're faced with some union oaf who's trying to throw their weight around - always ask the person to confirm what they're saying in writing - that way they can be held to account for what they say and how they behave.

Any local union rep behaving this way is asking for trouble - because it's tantamount to victimisation - and it's the kind of behaviour that unions were set up to defend their members against in the first place.

If this happens to you, the best way to respond is to simply stand your ground - refuse to be intimidated - remain calm and reasonable - ask for written confirmation of any such advice - and the rest will take care of itself.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

NHS claims

Scotland's NHS claims were discussed at a case management hearing in Edinburgh on 20 May 2008 - there's nothing of substance to report from that meeting as it focused on various ongoing administrative issues.

More significant is the news that the long awaited test case for all NHS cases has now been set - this has been scheduled for the beginning of October 2008 in Newcastle and is likely to last for 6 weeks.

Stefan Cross and Action 4 Equality are essentially challenging the new NHS pay and grading structures - because we believe that Agenda for Change (AfC) has simply maintained all the old pay differentials by discriminating against many female dominated jobs.

Agenda for Change is not rocket science - it's just another job evaluation scheme at the end of the day - which is UK wide in certain aspects, but local implementation has varied widely in different parts of the country.

We have concerns about Agenda for Change on a number of fronts:
  1. The lack of staff input and influence

  2. The use of generic national job profiles to grade many posts

  3. The lack transparency on pay information - staff don't know what other groups are paid

  4. The expertise and training provided to members of local AfC grading and appeals panels
The forthcoming test case represents a major investment of time and resources on the part of Stefan Cross and Action 4 Equality - we will keep our clients informed of progress as the hearing proceeds - and if you have any specific queries, feel free to drop Mark Irvine a note.

North Ayrshire update

A hearing of the North Ayrshire Council cases took place in Glasgow on 5 June - the date being re-arranged at short notice from the original one of 2 June 2008.

The Employment Tribunal had previously ordered North Ayrshire to produce pay information to confirm (or otherwise) the pay gap between male and female dominated jobs - this has now been done and the data provided by the council is currently being assessed.

A single GMF hearing for both the RAE (Rated as Equivalent) and EV (Equal Value) claims has now been given the green light - and a firm date will be set within the next few weeks with the hearing itself taking place sometime later in the year.

Further details will follow as soon as arrangements are confirmed. We will be in touch with North Ayrshire clients separately to identify potential witnesses and clarify various issues in the run up to the GMF hearing.

The onus is now on the council to justify the pay gap and - in the absence of a credible defence - the Employment Tribunal will be invited to agree that the underlying reason for the difference in pay - is sex discrimination against the female dominated jobs.


Wednesday, 4 June 2008

New Contact Number

Action 4 Equality Scotland has a new contact telephone number - the number for both existing and new clients to ring is:

Action 4 Equality Scotland - 0845 300 3 800

You can leave a message on this number - either to request an application form, or to ask for a call back, if you have an enquiry about an existing equal pay claim.

Telephone enquiries are welcome, but normally the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site is the best source of information - because as soon as there are any significant developments - either locally or nationally - the key details are always posted here first.

You can, as usual, raise a query and request application forms via Mark Irvine - who can be contacted at the following e-mail address: markirvine@compuserve.com

Monday, 2 June 2008

Glasgow - ongoing claims

One of our Glasgow clients rang up today to double check that she still had an ongoing equal pay claim against the city council.

The answer is definitely - YES!

Glasgow has settled some of its equal pay claims - but only up to 1 April 2006 when the council introduced a new pay and grading structure - on the back of what was called a local Pay & Benefits Review.

But as part of this package the council also agreed to protect the higher pay of traditional male (bonus earning) groups for years into the future - with the agreement and support of the trade unions.

So, while the pay gap continues all of the female dominated jobs - carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers and classroom assistants - continue to have an equal pay claim.

If you're already a client of Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross, you don't need to do anything - your claim is still being pursued and we will let you know when there are any developments.

If you accepted a 'buy out' settlement from the council in 2005, you can re-start your claim - all you need is an application form which you can get from Mark Irvine (markirvine@compuserve.com), or by contacting our Newcastle office on 0191 226 6686.

Single Status and Equal Pay - What's the difference?

Single Status is simply the name given to an important agreement from 1999 - when Scottish councils and the trade unions promised to end the distinction between 'blue collar' (Manual) workers and 'white collar' (APT&C) staff.

A key part of the agreement was a commitment to sweep away years of pay discrimination against many female dominated jobs - carers, cooks, cleaners, clerical workers and classroom assistants - by introducing a modern, fit for purpose and non-discriminatory pay structure.

The employers and trade unions agreed that the only way to achieve the kind of modern pay structure both sides desired - was via a new Job Evaluation (JE) scheme that gave female dominated jobs a better deal.

The problem was that the council employers and the trade unions both sat on their backsides for the next 10 years - blaming each other for the lack of progress - but ultimately they failed to deliver on their promises to a largely female workforce.

Equal Pay is underpinned by legislation - it's the law of the land - enshrined in the 1970 Equal Pay Act and in subsequent statutes and regulations.

Equal Pay trumps any collective agreement between employers and trade unions - because these collective agreements are voluntary in nature - and do not carry the same force as a binding legal agreement.

So, employers and trade unions may say they believe in equal opportunities and equal pay - but pursuing an Equal Pay claim puts the matter in the hands of the courts - where issues are decided by an independent Employment Tribunal.

Employers and trade unions often feel threatened by the involvement of the courts - because they lose control of the situation - they are no longer playing by their own internal rules, as with Single Status - and they have to account for their actions (or lack of them) to an external, independent body.

After a decade of empty promises - our advice to council employees in Scotland is to use the Employment Tribunal route - because the employers and trade unions have lost any credibility they once had - for doing the right thing by council workers.