Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Once Bitten, Twice Shy - WDC

West Dunbartonshire Council has got itself into a terrible mess on how to implement single status and resolve all of its outstanding equal pay claims.

Like other councils in Scotland, West Dunbartonshire was absolutely adamant that it had no equal pay problems - that is until Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross came along.

Then things quickly changed - the council began to make offers of settlement to some (manual) groups - these offers were worth much less than the likely value of people's claims - the council refused to explain how they were calculated - and so many people felt pressurised into accepting them - without fully understanding the consequences.

According to Action 4 Equality clients, the unions were worse than useless - they failed to support their members properly at crucial times - as happened in many other areas.

And now these chickens are coming home to roost.

The council has had to admit that every employee that signed a Compromise Agreement up to 1 April 2006 - has a further substantial equal pay claim because of the recent Court of Appeal ruling - see posts dated 2, 4 and 8 August 2008.

The trade unions are also running scared because they too have been held to account by the Court of Appeal - see post dated 17 July 2008 - which effectively means the unions are responsible for the financial losses of their members.

West Dunbartonshire is now planning to make further Compromise Agreement offers to employees - for the period 1 April 2006 to 1 April 2009.

Again, these new offers will not be properly explained - by the council or the unions - and again they are likely to be worth much less than the real value of people's claims.

Action 4 Equality's advice is not to accept any new offer of settlement - if you are already a client of Stefan Cross you don't need to take any action - just sit tight, do not sign or agree to anything - because your full claim against the council is proceeding.

If you're not already pursuing an equal pay claim - you should consider doing so as soon as possible - to protect your interests - otherwise you are likely to be taken to the cleaners again.

If you need an application form contact Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0845 300 3 800 - or drop Mark Irvine an e-mail with your contact details at: markirvine@compuserve.com


Thursday, 21 August 2008

Council Workers Strike (2)

Yesterday's council workers strike resulted in the usual pantomime of claim and counter claim - as employers and trade unions accused each other of refusing to meet to thrash out a negotiated settlement to their pay dispute.

"Oh, yes we did" was met by "Oh, no you didn't" - while thousands of members lost a day's pay and small groups of pickets stood outside council premises - in torrential rain.

The employers tactics are to sound very reasonable and wait for an unpopular strike to run out of steam - after all two thirds of members didn't even bother to vote in their union strike ballots.

So, for the moment, the windy rhetoric of trade union leaders will continue - but what is clear is that the employers are not going to run up the white flag and award a pay increase of 5%.

What the employers will do is to offer a re-packaged settlement - at the moment the offer is 2.5% for the next 3 years - i.e. 2.5% for 2008, 2.5% for 2009 and 2.5% for 2010.

Doesn't take a genius to work out that the employers are likely to offer a better increase in Year 1 (2008) - but then reduce the present offer in subsequent years - so that over the full 3 years the total value of the offer remains much the same - the logic being that inflation will fall next year and begin to come back under control.

Now, this is not as favourable a deal for the low paid (see post dated 15 August 2008) - but as we've seen over equal pay - getting to grips with low pay is not the top priority of either the employers or the trade unions - despite what they say.

So, does it really require widespread strike action, union members losing pay they can ill afford - and huge disruption to council services to sort this out?

Not on your life.

West Dunbartonshire Council

We are receiving reports of strange goings on in West Dunbartonshire.

Apparently, the council is telling employees that they are not going to receive the back pay they are due - in connection with their equal pay claims.

Instead, the council is going to offer people what they believe to be a fair lump sum - and that's the end of the matter as far as the council is concerned.

None of this has been confirmed in writing - so far at least - but the council will have to set out its position in writing and explain what it is planning to do in the days and weeks ahead.


As far as Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross are concerned - the council cannot abandon or withdraw any employee's equal pay claim - so as long as you do not accept a revised offer on a voluntary basis - then your claim will continue.

The point is that the council cannot make up the rules to suit itself - so all people have to do at the moment is to sit tight - do nothing - we will issue further advice as soon as we are in a position to do so.

Meantime, if you receive any correspondence from the council - please send a copy to:

Stefan Cross Solicitors
FAO - Mark Irvine
Buddle House
Buddle Road
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE4 8AW

Alternatively, you can e-mail documents to:
markirvine@compuserve.com

Friday, 15 August 2008

Council Workers Strike

Next Wednesday (20 August) Scotland's council workers are being called out on a day's strike - following two days of strike action in July by council workers in the rest of the UK.

The reasons for the strike are perfectly understandable - the employers have offered only a 2.5% pay increase with inflation running at 4.4% - and likely to reach 5% later this year.

But the reality is that the economy is in an awful mess - double digit price hikes in food, fuel and utility bills means that everyone's feeling the pain - in some sectors unemployment is rising fast and people are losing their jobs.

So, the government - which holds the purse strings - is not going to cave in and award council workers a 5% pay increase - because everyone else would demand the same.

Gordon Brown was happy to claim great credit for his management of the UK economy in the good times - yet now he tries to shift the blame onto world events which, he says, are beyond government control.

But the reason the government's cupboard is bare is because of the policies that Gordon Brown has pursued over the past eleven years - for most of that period he was Labour's Iron Chancellor and made all the key decisions about public spending.

So, a strike is not going to achieve anything - it's going nowhere fast - and council workers will simply lose money they can ill afford.

A much better solution would be to negotiate a deal that helps the lower paid - after all a £400 increase in household bills hits someone on a salary of £10,000 much harder than someone on £30,000.

Not fair? No, not absolutely fair - because the lower paid would get more than 2.5% while the higher paid would get less.

But the lowest paid jobs - done mainly by women - have been low paid for years - and that's not fair either. Why do you think so many workers doing these jobs have equal pay claims?

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Midlothian Council (2)

As predicted earlier this week (see post dated 6 August), Midlothian Council has written to all employees about its plans to implement a new pay and grading structure.

The letter is really just a long-winded admission of failure - because the council has failed to persuade the trade unions to sign up to its (very) belated Single Status scheme - the original agreement dating back to 1999

Why? Well on this occasion the council has only itself to blame - it has stubbornly refused to publish details of its job evaluation (JE) scheme - so no one (apart from a few senior managers) knows how their jobs have been scored.

In turn, no one can tell how other council jobs have been scored - so instead of being open and transparent - the whole process is secretive and furtive which is not how things are supposed to work.

If the council has nothing to hide, why doesn't it just publish the details of the JE scheme - as many others across Scotland have done, without batting even an eyelid?

The council's behaviour is impossible to justify - having failed to win over the unions - they are now trying to appeal over the heads of the trade unions to individual employees - but this is likely to end in failure as well.

So, our advice is just to sit tight - do not agree to anything without seeking proper advice - it is better for the council to impose a new pay and grading scheme - rather than for you to accept the new terms voluntarily.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Court of Appeal (3)

The recent decision from the Court of Appeal - see posts dated 2 and 4 August - continues to arouse a huge amount of interest.

We've had lots of enquiries this week - seeking clarification about that part of the judgment dealing with 'blue' and 'white' collar claims.

Essentially, some employers have been trying to argue that equal pay claims are only valid if they restrict themselves to jobs within the same bargaining group - e.g. manual worker to manual worker.

This would be great news for the employer - if it were true - because female dominated jobs such as classroom assistants or clerical workers - would be prevented from comparing their earnings to those of traditional male jobs that are much better paid - e.g refuse workers, gravediggers and gardeners.

So, despite the fact that these female jobs require more skill and carry greater responsibility - the employers were trying to get away with arguing that the difference in pay is not caused by blatant sex discrimination - but by pure happenstance and the historical pay differences between the different bargaining groups.

But the good news is that the Court of Appeal has given this nonsense short shrift - which means that many female jobs on 'white' collar or APT&C pay scales - have just as valid claims as their colleagues in manual worker jobs.

Why should a classroom assistant or clerical worker be paid much less than a refuse worker, gardener or gravedigger?

Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross have said so from day one - it's been the employers and trade unions who've kept 'white' collar or APT&C workers in the dark - and discouraged them from making equal pay claims.

So, yet another genie is out of the bottle - knowledge is power, as they say - and as word spreads we expect another avalanche of new claims.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Midlothian Council

Midlothian is rife with rumours that the council is planning to impose a new pay and grading structure - from January 2009.

If true, this would be a big mistake - the council will just be digging a bigger and deeper hole for itself - because it is trying to introduce new pay arrangements without explaining how everyone's jobs have been scored and graded.

Bad behaviour like this is what you would expect from the worst kind of rogue employer - not a Labour led council with strong trade union links - a sign of the times, perhaps.

Even the unions are up in arms - complaining about the council's bully boy tactics - wondering how their erstwhile friends and comrades can conduct themselves in this way.

In any event, there's no need to panic - if the council serves 90 days notice on the workforce, we will issue Action 4 Equality clients with detailed advice on how best to respond.

Midlothian will not be the first council to go down this route - but if it's silly enough to do so, the council will simply open itself up to further legal action - as well as doing more damage to its reputation within the local community.

Wonder what David Hamilton - the local Midlothian MP - thinks of it all? He's a former Midlothian Labour councillor (from 1995 to 2001), from a mining background and NUM stock - David can be contacted at:
hamiltonda@parliament.uk

David shares an office in Dalkeith High Street with the local Labour (Holyrood) MSP - Rhona Brankin - she can be contacted at:
Rhona.Brankin.msp@scottish.parliament.co.uk



Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Fife Council

At long last, things are finally coming to a head in Fife Council - following a productive CMD hearing last week.

Fife has two types of equal pay claims underway: 'rated as equivalent' claims and 'equal value' claims.

The first category involves a straightforward comparison of two manual worker jobs - the second compares a non-manual job (i.e. an APT&C or a 'white collar' post) to a manual job - or vice versa.

Fife has moved some former manual worker jobs onto monthly pay - then re-classified them as APT&C posts - this has happened in a number of other councils as well - and often the employers don't explain the potential significance of what's going on - and neither do the unions.

But the underlying equal pay issues are the just same - how do the employers justify paying traditional male jobs (e.g. refuse workers and gardeners) so much more than carers, catering staff and classroom assistants?

The Employment Tribunals have now agreed that dates will be set to bring all the Fife Council cases to a conclusion - at a GMF hearing where the council will have to defend what we believe are discriminatory pay practices.

These hearings will be held in two stages, as follows:

1st set of hearings - November to December 2008
2nd set of hearings - January to February 2009

As soon as firm dates are established we will post the details on the web site.

Fife Council may now be inclined to try and settle the cases - and if the first set are successful, the second may not need to proceed. In any event, the council's day of reckoning is approaching fast - good news for everyone involved.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Falkirk - STOP PRESS

Just a quick note to let our clients in Falkirk know that we won the Employment Tribunal hearing that was held in March 2008 - by a unanimous decision.

The judgment is hot off the press having been released earlier today - Falkirk council failed in its argument that the jobs of home carers were not graded under the Green Book - in accordance with the manual worker job evaluation scheme.

So, while it's been a long wait - the result is exactly the one we were hoping for - more news to follow soon.

Court of Appeal (2)

We have been inundated with enquiries following the recent Court of Appeal decision - see post dated 2 August 2008 - from people asking for more information about 'protected earnings'.

Let's take a practical example to illustrate the significance of the court's judgment - and why so many people now have a further claim.

In Council A, a refuse worker was being paid £9.00 an hour (including bonus) - prior to the introduction of a new pay and grading system.

In that same council, a carer was being paid £6.00 an hour - so she had an equal pay claim based on the difference between the two jobs - i.e. £3.00 per hour, backdated for 5 years etc.

The introduction of a new pay and grading system (in Glasgow it was given the grand title of a 'Pay and Benefits Review') means that the carer's job received an small increase in pay - let's assume to £7.00 per hour.

But what the council employers have done is to protect the pay of the refuse worker - at £9.00 per hour - so the male job is still being paid £2.00 an hour more than the female job - and for years into the future.

So, the significance of the Court of Appeal decision is that the carer (along with many other jobs) can now say:

"I want my job paid at the protected rate too!".

The new claim is for the difference in pay - in this particular case £2.00 an hour - for as long as the pay gap continues.

A worked example would be: £2.00 (the pay gap) x 30 (hours worked per week) x 52 (weeks per year) x 4 (the number years that male jobs are protected) = £24,960 + interest. NB the length of the protection period varies from council to council.

Needless to say - the employers are not explaining this to the thousands of women workers who now have substantial new claims - nor are the trade unions because they're too busy planning madcap strikes .

But Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross are prepared to act for you - and if you need help contact us on 0845 300 3 800 - or drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Women Win Landmark Equal Pay Case

The Court of Appeal delivered another landmark judgment last week - of huge significance to the thousands of outstanding equal pay claims currently before the Employment Tribunals in Scotland.

In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the court decided firmly in favour of women claimants in two crucial areas.

Firstly, the court agreed that employers continue to discriminate against their women workers, if local pay protection is given to male bonus earners - but not their female colleagues.

What has happened in most councils is that - despite the introduction of new and supposedly fairer pay structures - the much higher pay of traditional male jobs has been protected - they continue to earn the same as before - so the big pay gap between male and female jobs for years into the future.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that such schemes are unlawful - because they continue the pay discrimination of the past - opening the door to many more claims from thousands of employees - even if they have already accepted an offer of settlement.

Secondly, the court agreed that different collective bargaining structures are not a barrier to female employees pursuing equal pay claims - which opens the door for pay and earnings to be compared across 'blue' and 'white' collar occupational groups.

Again the court's judgment is great news - because it means that female clerical workers or classroom assistants (to give but two examples) are able to compare their pay to that of traditionally much higher paid male refuse workers or gardeners.

The employers will now have to explain and defend these big differences in pay - they can't hide behind different pay bargaining arrangements as the reason (as opposed to blatant pay discrimination) - which many have done up until now.

So, the stance taken by Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross has been vindicated by the Court of Appeal - while the employers and trade unions have been left with egg all over their faces - again.