Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas and compliments of the season to all our regular readers.

2008 has proved to be a frustrating year in some ways - the outstanding equal pay claims are all working their way through the Employment Tribunal process behind the scenes - but they are taking longer than anyone originally hoped or expected.

The lack of progress is down to the foot dragging antics of the employers - although their reluctance to lock horns on the real issues speaks volumes about the underlying weakness of the employers' arguments - and their willingness to put these to the test.

However, there are a number of important and encouraging developments - that we will be able to share with people in the New Year.

In the meantime, happy holidays - and all the best for 2009!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Equal Pay Triumph for NHS workers

Great news for NHS workers.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has thrown out the NHS employer claims that historical collective bargaining to blame for unequal pay.

The landmark judgment in the EAT paves the way for thousands of low paid women in the NHS including nurses, health care assistants, medical secretaries and many other support staff.

The ruling was made in the equal pay test case of North Cumbria Acute NHS Trust v Ms Potter and others (18 December 2008).

The critical test case examined whether an NHS trust could defend pay inequality between female and male staff doing comparable work because of the impact of historical differences in collective bargaining.

In other words, the employer tried to argue that any pay differences were caused inadvertently - by historical accident - with women being represented by one bargaining unit - and men being represented by another.

The NHS case is very similar to the arguments raised by Edinburgh City Council about APT&C workers in local government - see post dated 23 October 2008.

The judgment is highly significant because, historically, terms and conditions for workers in the NHS have been set by trade union and employers in a collective bargaining process. Thousands more women nationwide will now proceed.

North Cumbria Acute NHS Trust, the women's NHS employer, had tried to argue that all of their claims were invalid because any disparity in pay had arisen as a result of the parallel collective bargaining systems.

In short, the NHS employer tried to distance itself from the collective bargaining machinery, to which it was a party, so that it could claim that it bore no responsibility for the pay differences that existed amongst its own staff.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, roundly rejected this argument together with other unmeritorious technical points designed to prevent the women from progressing their claims. The judge concluded that the Trust was responsible and accountable for any inequality of pay that existed.

Indeed, the NHS employer had paid out compensation to nurses in the past, in similar circumstances, when equal pay claims had been pursued.

More to follow - and our thanks to Cloisters web site for providing some of the details on this important case.

Friday, 19 December 2008

More Council Compromise Agreements

Since sharing the costs of Compromise Agreements that some councils have racked up – see post dated 16 December 2008 - other regular readers of the blog have been in touch to ask about their own local councils.

Here are details from other councils – a few stragglers are still awaited:

East Ayrshire £62,834
Aberdeen City £62,537
East Lothian £53,834
Renfrewshire Council £52,850
Falkirk Council £41,125
East Renfrewshire £38,825
South Ayrshire £37,200
Perth & Kinross £13,350
Clackmannanshire £8,225

Sub Total £370, 780

Running Total £1.41 million (includes figures reported on 16 December) - and counting!

The cost of Compromise Agreements is only one aspect of council using public money to rack up huge legal fees – because external legal firms are also being paid handsomely for their work at the Employment Tribunals – at the tax payers’ expense, of course.

More to follow

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Council Compromise Agreements

Councils always say they have no money – it is part of the rough and tumble of political life in local government – but the truth is that council budgets have doubled in the past 10 years.

And when push has come to shove councils always have a truly uncanny ability to find the money they need - to suit their own spending priorities.

Take the cost of Compromise Agreements – the same councils that had no money to meet their obligations in terms of Single Status or Equal Pay – found they had plenty of money to pay ‘independent’ solicitors to advise council employees on signing away their legal rights.

Here’s a list what just a handful of councils have spent – details have come to light only recently in response to recent Freedom of Information requests

Glasgow City Council - £347,477
City of Edinburgh - £247,500
North Lanarkshire Council - £140,177
Aberdeenshire Council - £138,732
Fife Council - £89,358
Highland Council - £80,840

Running Total - £1,044,084

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – Scottish councils have spent yet more money fighting and often delaying cases at the employment tribunals - when they really ought to be getting down to the serious business of explaining the big differences in pay - between traditional male and female jobs.

More details to follow.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday Herald (2)

Last week's Sunday Herald newspaper featured a letter from Unison's regional secretary, Matt Smith, which purported to be about equal pay, but was really just another feeble attack on Stefan Cross.

The Sunday Herald has today printed Stefan's reply which is reproduced below for information:

The Editor
Sunday Herald

Dear Sir

Matt Smith's letter of 7 December 2008 (Pay deals unpicked) is riddled with error and distortion.

So, let the facts speak for themselves.

Glasgow City Council is currently defending 5190 equal pay claims at the Employment Tribunals. Stefan Cross Solicitors is acting for 4,561 of these claimants (i.e. 88%) whereas Unison represents only 322, or 6%.

Mr Smith is wrong to boast that his trade union is leading the fight on equal pay - that isn't true.

The trade unions in Scotland kept their women members in the dark about equal pay for years, while continuing to strike local deals that favoured traditional male jobs.

The local authority employers are now being forced to take action on equal pay, but that has only come about because of the intervention by Stefan Cross Solicitors and Action 4 Equality Scotland.

The uncomfortable truth for Mr Smith and his fellow union bosses is that they have turned a blind eye to pay discrimination and failed to put their own house in order.


Stefan Cross


The old saying about 'people who live in glass houses' springs to mind!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Glasgow meetings

The Glasgow 'drop in' meetings held earlier this week were a great success - lots of new enquires, such as:

Why are people able to re-start their claims?
Because the council has continued to protect the higher earnings of traditional male groups - refuse workers and gardeners, for example - so there is is still a significant pay gap between many male and female jobs.

What about the Compromise Agreement I signed in December 2005?
Makes no difference - signing a Compromise Agreement doesn't prevent you from pursuing a new claim - because a new claim is about pay arrangements within the council after December 2005.

Who can restart their claims?
Just about everyone who received a settlement offer from the council in December 2005 - i.e.

Cleaners
Catering Staff
Home Carers
Classroom Assistants
Child Development Officers
School-based Clerical Staff

Why did the council make settlement offers to only some APT&C staff?
Who knows - the council has done some crazy things over equal pay, but it has never explained why a school based admin and clerical worker was made an offer - while people on the same grade elsewhere were excluded.

What can the excluded groups do about that?
Register an equal pay claim - it's still possible for people in these groups to pursue a claim now.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Sunday Herald

An article on equal pay appeared in the Sunday Herald at the weekend - and it's certainly caused a stir. Here’s a case study written by Tom Gordon - the newspaper's Political Editor - about Helen Brownlie, one of the employees who attended Glasgow's ‘acceptance’ meetings.

“The meetings were billed by Glasgow City Council as helpful discussions with an ‘independent legal adviser’, but the reality was very different.

In November and December 2005, the authority arranged dozens of roadshows offering ‘compromise deals’ to around 11,000 female staff owed back pay after years of earning less than their male equivalents.

Dinner ladies, home carers, cleaners and nursery nurses were offered cheques of up to £9,000. The £40 million package represented just a fraction of what the women were owed, but the council and trade union Unison argued that pursuing the full amounts would lead to job cuts and service cuts.

At the time, a council spokesman insisted: “The advice given at the roadshows is supposed to be impartial, free and independent. It is the best deal for staff, consistent with us avoiding redundancies and cuts in services.”

Accusing the council of trying to use timeshare-style sales methods, the GMB union warned people not to sign, but hundreds did regardless.

Among them was Helen Brownlie, now 67, from Knightswood, a home carer for almost 30 years.

She had expected an orderly sit-down with a lawyer. Instead she found herself corralled with hundreds of fellow care workers in a council leisure centre.

She says she was then taken to a lawyer who witnessed her signature, but did not otherwise want to talk to her. She signed away most of her rights and money in a blur.

“We were all herded in like cattle. They just handed us papers and told us to sign and move on. There was a queue behind you, so you didn’t want to waste time."

“It was horrendous. We felt under pressure, we just signed. The rest of the lassies felt the same. I got £6,500 but I was due £19,500. I thought that if I did not accept it, I would not have another chance.”

Later she heard that workers who had refused to sign had received far higher payments, and took her case to Stefan Cross. She is now pursuing a claim against the council, arguing the compromise deal was flawed and that the ‘independent legal advice’ she received was just a sham.”

Glasgow & Equal Pay

We've had lots of enquiries today from employees of Glasgow City Council - with people wanting to know if they can re-start their equal pay claims.

The answer is - YES!

Even if you accepted a previous settlement from the council, you have a further significant claim - because the council has continued to protect the higher earnings of traditional male jobs.

And while the big pay gap between male and female jobs remains - you continue to have a claim.

You may also be able to challenge the terms of the original settlement that many council employees accepted back in November/December 2005 - see post dated 6 November 2008.

In addition, there are lots of Glasgow employees who have not been made any offers of settlement - even though the groups have perfectly valid claims.

Groups of admin and clerical workers (former APT&C staff) who do highly skilled and reponsible jobs - yet are paid much less than unskilled, traditional male jobs such as refuse workers.

So, if you have a query or need some advice, come along to one of our 'drop in' Glasgow meetings on Wednesday 10 or Thursday 11 December.

We will be at The Millennium Hotel on George Square between 2pm and 6pm each day.

South Lanarkshire Loses Challenge

South Lanarkshire Council has just lost a vital hearing at the employment tribunals.

The council requested a special Pre-Hearing Review and argued that the claims should not be allowed to proceed - because of the criticism of the council on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.

Now this is a bit rich when you consider that South Lanarkshire Council is the only council in Scotland that stubbornly refuses to admit what traditional male jobs are paid.

Every other council in the land has now shared information about rates of pay for refuse workers, gardeners and gravediggers - even if some of them took their time doing so.

But the employment tribunals rejected South Lanarkshire's arguments - all of the Stefan Cross claims will now proceed - and the council will be required to explain and justify its local pay and grading structures.

Action 4 Equality Scotland will be holding update meetings for South Lanarkshire clients in the New Year - so watch this space for further details.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Law Firms Face Equal Pay Challenge

Stefan Cross Solicitors is challenging six of Scotland’s leading law firms over their advice to thousands of Glasgow City Council employees about equal pay.

In November/December 2005, Glasgow City Council made settlement offers to over ten thousand employees at a series of ‘acceptance’ meetings.

The council refused to explain basis of these cash offers to their employees (i.e. how the payments were assessed and calculated), but in reality the council’s offers were worth less than twenty five per cent of the real value of people’s equal pay claims.

The city council selected the following six law firms to attend the acceptance meetings and advise the workforce:

1. Biggart Baillie
2. Brechin Tindal Oats
3. Burness

4. MacLay Murray Spens
5. McGrigor Donald
6. Wright Johnston McKenzie

Council employees were required to sign a legal waiver (known as a Compromise Agreement) before the council would release their settlements, but such agreements only exclude tribunal proceedings if the person signing the agreement has received independent legal advice and other conditions are complied with. The law firms charged Glasgow City Council £347,477.76p for providing this advice service.

Stefan Cross of Stefan Cross Solicitors commented: “We have just issued 1,000 letters of complaint to six law firms – and many more are likely to follow in the weeks ahead. These firms accepted instructions from the council and the employees had no choice in the matter.


We believe the firms failed to comply with their obligations to the women as individual clients and in particular failed to take time to advise the clients of the merits of the deal on offer and as a result the women accepted offers that were far below the true value of their claims. In addition to lodging complaints against the individual firms we are seeking a ruling from the tribunal that the agreements did not comply with the Sex Discrimination Act.”

Mark Irvine, spokesperson for Action 4 Equality Scotland, added: “The council dangled a juicy carrot in front of some of its lowest paid workers and timed this quite deliberately in the run up to Christmas 2005. Many of the lowest paid council workers lost thousands of pounds and believe that they were badly informed or even misled.


The feedback from people who attended the council acceptance meetings is that they were barely given any proper advice. Most spent only a few minutes with their council appointed lawyer and felt they had no real choice but to accept what was on offer. Apparently, the lawyers involved gave the workforce no real help or practical advice, yet council taxpayers had to pick up a whopping great bill of £347,000 for their services.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Glasgow 'drop in' meetings

Action 4 Equality Scotland is organising two 'drop in' meetings in Glasgow next week - on Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th December 2008.

The purpose of these meetings is to explain the importance of the recent breakthrough for APT&C workers - and the recent Edinburgh employment tribunal decision - which means that 'white collar' groups have just as valid equal pay claims as their manual worker colleagues.

For further details - see post dated 9 November 2008 - the decision of the employment tribunal in Edinburgh - is hugely significant to APT&C workers in Glasgow and elsewhere.

We will also be taking the opportunity to update existing Glasgow clients in relation to the Compromise Agreement challenge - which is working its way through the employment tribunal process in Glasgow - and other ongoing issues as well.

So, why not come along for a chat - whether you want to find out about a new claim - or you just want an update about your existing claim.

The venue for these meetings is - The Millennium Hotel, George Square, Glasgow, G2 1DS (The Millennium Hotel is on the north side of George Square – right next to Queen St Station)

MEETING 1

Wednesday 10 December - drop in anytime between 2pm - 6pm

MEETING 2

Thursday 11 December - drop in anytime between 2pm - 6pm

We look forward to seeing you next week.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

GLASGOW LOSES VITAL PRE-HEARING

Glasgow City Council has lost a vital pre-hearing review (PHR) over the council's compromise agreements - that many people signed in November and December 2005.

Stefan Cross is challenging the validity of Glasgow's compromise agreements - and is seeking a ruling from the employment tribunal that the agreements did not comply with the Sex Discrimination Act.


If that challenge is succcesful, it will have the effect of re-opening the whole issue - for thousands of council staff who accepted settlement offers from the council - that were worth far less than the real value of their claims.

Glasgow tried to block this challenge at a specially convened pre-hearing review - the council argued that they were being unfairly treated because of criticism on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.

But the employment tribunal rejected Glasgow's argument - and the challenge from Stefan Cross will now proceed in the New Year.

If you need advice about your own situation, contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com