Sunday, 26 October 2008

Trade Union Grievances

Earlier this year we reported that the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had dealt a severe blow to lots of trade union backed equal pay claims in Scotland - see posts dated 1 and 24 July 2008.

The EAT's decision meant that where the trade unions had submitted 'collective' grievances with the council employers - instead of registering individual grievances (as required by the equal pay regulations) - then these claims might not be allowed to proceed through the employment tribunal process.

Worse still, as the cases had not been taken up properly to begin with - people may well now be out of time – and, if so, the individuals involved could lose their entire claim - worth thousands of pounds in many cases.

Well it seems these chickens are now coming home to roost - with a vengeance.

An employee of North Lanarkshire Council has been in touch to ask for advice - because her trade union is saying her claim is now being dropped – like a stone.

Just like that – without a word of apology or regret – a long standing member is simply abandoned and told her claim can't proceed any further - because it wasn't 'grievanced' properly to begin with - and has run out of time.

What the woman's letter does not explain - clearly at least - is that the case can’t proceed because of her trade union’s carelessness and sheer incompetence.

But instead of putting their hands up and offering to compensate the member for her financial loss – shamefully the union has left the woman to fend for herself.

The good news is that Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross will take up the case - she has a 'slam dunk' negligence claim against her trade union - which should compensate her in full for all the money she’s lost.

There are bound to be lots of similar cases out there - in places where the trade unions have taken their eye off the ball – and failed to register their members’ grievances properly.

If anyone you know is in the same unfortunate position, tell them not to panic - all is not lost, not by a long chalk.

Contact Mark Irvine for further advice at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Glenrothes By-Election

The Glenrothes by-election is being held on Thursday 4 November – and it looks like a two horse race between the SNP and Labour Party.

As usual, there will be public hustings and lots of other activities leading up to election-day.

So why not use any opportunity that comes your way to question the leading candidates on their views about equal pay.

The Labour candidate is Lindsay Roy, a local head teacher. Interesting thing is that all teachers in Scotland benefited from a generous pay deal back in 2001 – as a result of the McCrone Agreement.

Now this cost substantial sums of public money at the time – adding £800 million pounds to the pay bill - to fund a 23.5% pay increase for all teachers - which they’re still benefiting from to this day.

So, a good question for Lindsay Roy would be: “If you believe in fair pay for teachers, do you also support equal pay for low paid council staff - carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers and classroom assistants?”

In 2001, the council employers and the government found the money to pay for the teachers improved pay package – so why are other council workers treated so differently when it comes to equal pay?

The SNP candidate is Peter Grant – leader of Fife Council which is now directly responsible for equal pay and for resolving all the outstanding claims.

Now it’s fair to point out that the SNP only took control of the council last year – in May 2007 – having wrestled control away from Labour which ran the council for years previously.

The SNP would no doubt say that their Labour opponents are to blame for not implementing the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in 1999 – along with their chums in the trade unions – and that would be true.

But what’s also true is that someone has to sort out the mess – and the SNP are now in the driving seat – no one else.

So, a good question for Peter Grant would be: “What is the SNP doing to resolve all the outstanding equal pay cases in Fife – others might have created the mess, but the current SNP administration that has the responsibility of clearing it up?”

Friday, 24 October 2008

South Lanarkshire Update

South Lanarkshire’s equal pay claims face a major 10 day hearing early in the New Year – from 12 to 23 January 2009.

Clients are very welcome to attend the hearing, but in reality few people, if any, will be able to give up that much of their own free time.

So, we’re planning to use this opportunity to prepare for the hearing and report back to clients over the next couple of months.

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) continues to refuse to explain how its job evaluation (JE) scheme works – there is an ongoing battle to gain even basic information about scores and grades – details that other councils in Scotland have made freely available.

South Lanarkshire claimed previously that its JE scheme “has been externally verified” - but this claim turns out to be completely untrue.

Because the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) never gave its approval to the South Lanarkshire scheme (as claimed by the council at the time) and - according to the council now - discussions with the EOC barely got off the ground.

The council’s failure to gain EOC approval was discovered only recently following a Freedom of Information request.

So, the upshot is that South Lanarkshire employees were misled at a crucial time – via a staff newsletter - which made false claims about the SLC job evaluation scheme: the foundation stone of the council’s pay and grading structure.
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If you want to organise a meeting in your own local area – all you need to do is identify:

• a possible date or dates
• a good time of day
• a suitable local venue

Lots of similar meetings have been held in South Lanarkshire in the past – in a wide variety of different venues - our experience is that local people know best in terms of where and when to meet.

So, if you want to join in then contact Mark Irvine at: markrivine@compuserve.com

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Edinburgh Council: 'Defending the Indefensible'

Edinburgh City Council has been slated by an Employment Tribunal in an important equal pay test case.

The hearing ran for 10 days over June and August 2008, but the written judgment is quite devastating in its criticism of the council and main witness, John Allan, an Employee Relations Manager.

The council’s case was that hundreds of equal pay claims from women (admin & clerical) employees should not be allowed to proceed because they are employed on different conditions of service to their male colleagues.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision has given the council’s argument short shrift, clears the way for existing cases to proceed.


The decision also opens the door for many more claims from women workers in former APT&C or ‘white collar’ jobs – i.e. clerical workers, social care workers, classroom assistants catering managers and nursery nurses.

Key extracts from the tribunal’s written judgment are reproduced below:

Para 459: “Put simply, where the respondent (Edinburgh City Council) has issued a document to an employee which makes specific reference to the Red book, I do not comprehend how it can be said that the terms of the Red Book are not contractual;. In the context of communications between parties about a contract which they are entering or proposing to enter into, each is taken to mean what they say”.

Para 460: “Mr Allan gave evidence to the effect that the issuing of offer letters etc. Containing specific references to the Red Book terms and conditions was a ‘mistake. In my opinion, even if that is true, it cannot alter the legal and contractual effect of doing so, particularly where there has been no attempt by the respondent to rectify that ‘mistake. ”.

Para 539: “In relation to Mr. Allan, I have a degree of sympathy with him because he appeared ultimately to be attempting to defend the indefensible. I do not think that there was an issue of credibility as such but he was forced to adopt a number of relatively absurd positions by reference to the content of documentation put to him.....Ultimately, I felt that I could attach little weight to his evidence”.

Mark Irvine, spokesperson for Action 4 Equality Scotland said:


“ ’Defending the indefensible’ sums up the council’s behaviour perfectly – they should be ashamed of the way they fought this case and how they’ve dealt with equal pay generally."

"The tribunal’s criticism of the council’s evidence is quite extraordinary, but absolutely entirely justified in the circumstances. The waste of public money is enormous. Edinburgh council taxpayers are facing huge legal bills as officials engage in foolish delaying tactics instead of facing up to the real issues".

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Glasgow Betrays Carers, Cleaners and Catering Staff

Glasgow City Council has just announced that it plans to transfer its home carers, cleaners and catering staff to a new arms length company.

The council claims that this is to protect essential services - but the truth is that the move is really designed to avoid the council having to meet its obligations on equal pay.

The existing pay and conditions of the largely female workforce will be maintained because of the TUPE regulations - but the transfer will isolate the women from the better paid men - with only the men remaining directly employed by the city council.

If that happens, the women workers may no longer be able to compare their lower earnings with the higher earnings of male jobs such as gardeners and refuse workers - because the council will have placed an artificial wall between the two groups.

The council is then likely to argue that the women workers have no entitlement to back pay, worth over £10,000 per person for a full time worker. Neither the council nor the unions are advising their members of these rights.

So, the move to an arm's length company has nothing to do with quality or service standards - and everything to do with avoiding equal pay.

The unions - who have traditionally negotiated better deals for the male groups - will wring their hands and complain. But the truth is that the trade unions have been doing the council's dirty work all along - by failing to fight for equal treatment for their women members.

In fact, the unions privately will be pleased - because it gets them off a hook.

In future, the unions will say their male members are better paid than their women members because they work for different employers - not because of the discriminatory deals negotiated by the unions in the past.

Predictable as ever, the unions' defence will be: 'a big boy did it and ran away' - allowing them to wash their hands of the whole affair and abandon their members, yet again.

What should Glasgow workers do before the great transfer to 'Carers R Us' goes ahead?

Well the sensible thing to do is to avoid get what you're entitled to while you can - by registering an equal pay claim. If you leave it until after the transfer goes ahead, the council may be able to argue that your claim is out of time, which would be a great shame.
It's not too late - even if you've already accepted a previous settlement from the council, you still have an ongoing claim.

So, don't get mad - or don't just get mad - protect your interests by registering a claim.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Glasgow City Council: "Let's Get Serious"

An employment tribunal (pre-hearing review) is being held next week (Wednesday 22 October) – involving some of the outstanding Glasgow city council cases.

The underlying issues are about pay discrimination against female employees, but the council is, yet again, seeking to avoid serious legal argument.

Instead it’s trying to block people’s claims because of the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.

Six months ago, in April 2008, the blog site posted an article highlighting the fact that thousands of women employees in Glasgow signed Compromise Agreements back in 2005. But Stefan Cross Solicitors has raised serious concerns about the nature of these arrangements – and whether people were properly advised by the council or the ‘independent’ lawyers involved.

Yet, the council’s response is to concentrate on comments from a blog site that are six months old. The tribunal has listed a two day hearing to address arguments from Glasgow that the council cannot get a fair hearing due to comments on the Internet.

Stefan Cross Solicitors will be vigorously defending the action next week – not only on the grounds that this is an attack on free speech and an attempt at censorship and – but also by pressing for Glasgow to ‘get serious’ and focus on the substantive legal arguments surrounding these cases.

Only then will employees in Glasgow receive a proper hearing. At present, the council is using public funds to pay lawyers to engage in desperate delaying tactics. The two day tribunal hearing will be run at taxpayers’ expense, but will not address any legitimate legal arguments about equal pay.

Glasgow clients are welcome – in fact entitled – to attend next week’s hearing which is taking place at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal offices on Wednesday 22 (and possibly Thursday 23) October 2008 – best to get there for 9.30am.

If you are planning to attend the Employment Tribunal address is: the Eagle Building, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS: 5-minutes walk west along Bothwell Street from Central Station in the direction of Finnieston.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Top Scottish Lawyer Joins Stefan Cross

Carol Fox is the latest recruit to the equal pay team at Stefan Cross Solicitors (SCS), which along with Action for Equality is leading the fight for equal pay in Scotland.

Carol Fox joins Stefan Cross from her previous position as the Head of Equality at Thompsons Solicitors - the law firm that acts as the external legal adviser to Unison, Scotland’s largest local government trade union.

Carol will be assuming responsibility as the lead SCS solicitor for all ongoing employment tribunal cases in Scotland - with immediate effect.


Carol lives in Edinburgh where she has stood previously as a candidate for the Scottish parliamentary seat of Edinburgh West in 1999 and again in 2003, and for the Lothian list seat in 2007.

Carol has wide experience of dealing with employment and discrimination issues at the workplace from her previous role with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and as a full-time union official with Nupe, Unison and subsequently NASUWT - the teachers’ union.

Carol said: “I’m delighted to be taking up such important role. I’ve been committed to equal opportunities and women’s rights throughout my professional and political life – and I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.


"Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross have transformed the debate around equal pay in Scotland. Progress is still painfully slow in some areas, but my aim will be to bring the outstanding cases to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible”.

Stefan Cross added: “Carol is a tremendous addition to our legal team and has a great track record of achievement both as a union official and as Head of Equality at Thompsons.


"It’s a sign of the impact that Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross Solicitors have made in Scotland - that we’re able to attract someone of Carol’s calibre and background”.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Blame the Members

Surprise, surprise!

Scotland’s local government trade unions are going to recommend rejection of the latest ‘improved’ pay offer from the council employers.

In trade union circles, this is a discredited and cynical strategy – but a well worn one as well - that always comes into play when union leaders have painted themselves into a very tight corner.

So, the new offer of a 3% pay increase for 2008 followed by a 2.5% pay increase in 2009 – will be put to a ballot of union members.

Union leaders will now be calling for the offer to be summarily thrown out and for strike action to be escalated – but with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

Not only is this completely bonkers – it is completely dishonest into the bargain.

Why?

Because union leaders are now hoping and praying that ordinary union members do exactly the opposite of what they recommending them to do – by voting to accept the offer and abandon any further strikes.

Seems crazy, right?


But at that point union activists and union bosses will pronounce that the rank and file membership just isn’t up for the fight – so, lo and behold, union ‘leaders’ won’t have to face up to their mistakes and yet another dismal failure.


The bottom line is that the campaign of strike action has achieved nothing for the lower paid – and the ‘improved’ offer is being paid for by lost wages and pensions payments – i.e. the money saved by the employers during strike days.

In reality, union leaders will then be left blaming their own members for the way things have turned out – instead of asking some searching questions about their own tactics and strategy.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Too Late To Make A Claim?

An employee of North Lanarkshire Councils has been in touch to ask: "Is it too late to make an equal pay claim?"

The answer is a resounding - NO!

Lots of people have ongoing claims - but the employers are not going to explain this to their employees - as it will cost the councils money.

So, why do so many people still have claims?

Because the councils are still protecting the higher pay of the traditional male groups - and while that pay gap continues, employees in female dominated jobs can submit a claim for equal pay - which covers the entire protection period of 3 years or more.

What about claims that challenge council Compromise Agreements?

Large numbers of people - in certain councils - are now challenging the validity of their Compromise Agreements.

On the basis that employees did not receive proper advice - and that lawyers selected, instructed and paid for by the council - could not sensibly claim to be 'independent', as was claimed by many employers at the time.

A single lawyer cannot act for both parties when it comes to buying and selling a house - nor can a single lawyer act for both a husband and wife in a divorce settlement.

In which case, how can it be fair that council appointed lawyers are seemingly capable of representing the interests of both employer and employee - when it comes to a Compromise Agreement?

So, going back to the original question - it's not too late to register a claim - and if you want to do so, ring Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0845 300 3 800 - or drop Mark Irvine an e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Glasgow meetings

Glasgow’s outstanding equal pay claims could well be coming to a head over the next 3 to 6 months.

Important hearings with the employment tribunals are in the pipeline - preparations for these hearings are well underway - and we plan to use this opportunity to report back to clients.

To help with this task Action 4 Equality Scotland is planning to hold a series of local meetings across Glasgow - in October and November 2008.

If you want to organise one in your own local area – all you need to do is identify:

• a possible date or dates
• a good time of day
• a suitable local venue

Lots of similar meetings have been held in Glasgow in the past – in a wide variety of different venues - and our experience is that local people know best in terms of where and when to meet.


So, if you want to join in then contact Mark Irvine at: markrivine@compuserve.com

Friday, 3 October 2008

Council Workers Strike (4)

Looks like the council workers strike is coming to a long overdue and predictable end.

The employers have made a slightly improved offer - but ,of course, one that comes nowhere near the unions' original demand for a 5% or £1,000 across the board pay increase - whichever is the greater of the two.

The employers are now offering 3% in Year 1 (compared to 2.5% previously) and 2.5% in Year 2 (exactly the same as before). So, the 'gain' is worth an extra 0.5% - although this has been 'bought' at the expense of two days worth of strike action.

The reality is that the employers are improving the original offer - with the money they've saved - by not paying wages and pension payments to striking employees. In other words the strikers are funding the settlement themselves.

Hardly a great achievement - and one that does nothing whatsoever for the lower paid

To put things in perspective - for every £10,000 a year a council employee earns, the new deal is worth an extra £50 - then the employers revert to their original offer of a 2.5% pay increase in 2009.

But the obvious question to ask is: "Why have there been national strikes, demonstrations and all kinds of public hoo-ha - over what has come down to a 0.5% pay dispute?".

While the unions have turned a blind eye to the 30%, 40% and even 50% pay gap that's existed in councils for many years - between traditional male and female jobs.

Now that tells you all you need to know about union priorities - when it comes to equal pay.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

'Independent' Lawyers

A client from Glasgow has been in touch to ask if she can complain about the 'independent' lawyer who countersigned her Compromise Agreement - back in December 2005.

The answer is, potentially: YES.

Why? Because these 'independent' lawyers were actually selected and paid for by Glasgow City Council (i.e. they were handpicked by the employer) - although at the time the council claimed their function was to give advice to the council's employees.

But according to many Glasgow City Council employees - these 'independent' lawyers offered little, if any, practical advice and - crucially - they could not even explain how the council's offers of settlement were calculated.

The essential point is that all lawyers - even 'independent' ones - owe their clients a duty of care and if that duty is not properly observed - then the client can complain to the Law Society of Scotland, which is the regulatory body for the legal profession in Scotland.

In this case, the obvious yet unanswered question is: "Who was the client in Glasgow - the employer or the employee?"

And the answer has big implications for everyone involved - not least because the 'independent' lawyers were paid handsomely for their professional advice and services - see post dated 22 September 2008.

If you feel let down by the advice - or lack of advice - received from your 'independent' lawyer, then contact Mark Irvine about what to do next.

The name of the lawyer will be on your copy of the council Compromise Agreement - so look that document out and keep it safe for future reference.

Lots of other councils went down the Compromise Agreement route - by inviting 'independent' lawyers in to give their employees advice at local acceptance meetings - so there are lots of people who can potentially complain - including employees in the following councils:

Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire, Fife - and many more besides.

Mark Irvine can be contacted at: markirvine@compuserve.com - or via the Action 4 Equality Scotland phone number: 0845 300 3 800