Saturday, 27 June 2009

Those Behind Cried Foward

Having failed to properly look after the interests of its women members for many years the GMB is running a desperate campaign – aimed at poaching the clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors.

Now we’re all in favour of freedom of choice – but this takes the biscuit for barefaced cheek.

Because the trade unions have lost all credibility on equal pay – they’re about as convincing as MPs’ discussing their own expenses.

So, while most people are smart enough to see through the latest GMB propaganda for what it is – here are some good reasons to give the unions short shrift:

• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors told council workers the truth about equal pay from day one - we explained the big pay differences between male and female jobs
The unions kept their women members in the dark for years
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors are currently fighting a major test case (GMF hearing) for clients in Glasgow – we’ve engaged leading counsel in Daphne Romney QC to represent the Stefan Cross clients
The GMB is not even involved in this important hearing
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors are also fighting on behalf of those who signed Compromise Agreements with Glasgow City Council
The unions abandoned these individuals long ago
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors are taking up claims on behalf of non-manual groups - such as former APT&C staff
These groups have been ignored – in many areas - by both employers and unions
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors are pursuing claims on behalf of staff transferring to the council’s new arm's length company, Cordia.
The unions have been as quiet as church mice about the transfer
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross have taken up equal pay claims of many male workers - who were denied bonus payments over the years
Yet again the unions failed to take the lead for this group of members – but Stefan Cross has just won a landmark test case for male workers at the Employment Appeal Tribunal
• Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross are challenging Glasgow’s Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) - we believe it discriminates against many female dominated jobs and we’ve been asked to give evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Yet again the unions are either slow off the mark – or not even at the races

If you’re an existing client of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - and you receive such an invitation from the GMB – our advice is simple.

Tell them where to get off.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Good News for Male Claimants

Good news from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) – a recent landmark case has upheld the rights of male workers to bring ‘piggyback’ equal pay claims.

So the stance taken by Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross has been completely vindicated – and significantly the trade unions were not even involved in this hugely important EAT case.

In McAvoy v South Tyneside Borough Council the EAT has held that a man may validly pursue a 'piggyback' equal pay claim by comparing himself with a woman - who herself has succeeded in an equal pay claim with a higher paid male comparator.

The present claims arose in the context of multiple equal pay claims, brought against councils in the North East of England, mostly by women employed in predominantly female jobs – the position is just the same north of the border, thanks to the work of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross.

The women succeeded in claiming entitlement to 'productivity bonuses' paid to male comparators working elsewhere and they were accordingly awarded arrears of pay.

The EAT held that the men could claim equal pay AND sex discrimination based on being excluded from settlements - this means that the mere fact that there has been a settlement is enough to give the men a claim.

Men working alongside the female claimants brought contingent equal pay claims on the basis that, if and to the extent that the women's claims succeeded, they would be entitled to equivalent payments using the successful women as comparators.

An earlier employment tribunal upheld the men's claims, establishing their entitlement to the higher pay won by the female claimants, but only from the date on which the relevant female claimants presented their claims. The councils' appealed the tribunal's decision that the men were entitled to bring such claims at all, and the male (Stefan Cross) claimants appealed the decision to limit their entitlement to arrears of pay.

The EAT examined the case by reference to a simplified example: a woman (F1) and a man (M1) are working alongside one another on the same work, but the man is being paid £9 per hour, while the woman - by virtue of a previous successful claim by reference to the pay of a man doing a different job (M2) - is receiving £10.

The EAT held that these facts clearly triggered the operation of the equality clause. It rejected the Councils' argument that the pay disparity between M1 and F1 was due to a genuine material factor other than the difference of sex, namely that F1 was the beneficiary of a tribunal award and M1 was not.

The only reason M1 could not also have brought such a claim was that both he and the comparator, M2, are men. In other words, 'but for ' M1's sex, he would be entitled to the same pay as F1.

The EAT rejected the councils' appeal and the argument that the men's claims were premature, and went on to uphold the male claimants' appeal against limiting their arrears of pay. Referring back to its simplified example, the EAT noted that the arrears awarded to F1 represent pay, albeit paid late and only as a result of her bringing a tribunal claim.

The male claimants were therefore entitled to arrears for the full period that arrears were awarded to their comparators.

NB with thanks to the Employment Lawyers Association and IDS Employment Law Brief for some of the background information contained in this post

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Clean Break or Plain Bonkers

The House of Commons has selected a new speaker – John Bercow – who proclaims himself as a ‘clean break’ with the past.

If that’s the case, then heaven help us – because Mr Bercow comes with a certain amount of baggage, as they say.

He claimed the absolute maximum for his second home allowance in 2007/08 (£23,083) – and did the same in the 3 previous years.

Mr Bercow bought and sold properties in both his constituency and in London in 2003.

Yet he was unable or unwilling to give a definitive answer as to whether he paid capital gains tax on his property dealings – or what profit he made on his property dealings – which were, of course, heavily subsidised by the public purse.

When quizzed on the subject by the BBC – the new speaker admitted ‘flipping’ his second home - but he stuck to the hoary old formula that he acted within the rules ‘at the time’ – and that he had done nothing ‘unlawful’.

Well that’s a relief – but it’s also a mealy mouthed lot of old tosh.

As a result of his elevation to Mr Speaker - Mr Bercow’s salary jumps from £64,766 to £146,041 a year – plus he gets to live in a splendid grace and favour apartment at the Palace of Westminster – and he receives a gold plated pension into the bargain – half hi annual salary, no matter how long he stays in the job.

As if this was not bizarre enough – Mr Bercow was once a member of the right-wing Monday Club (which years ago called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged) - but Mr Bercow has now moved on to the left-wing of the Tory party apparently – if such a place actually exists.

In addition to his annual salary, Mr B is also paid between £35,000 and £40,000 as an adviser to a private health care company registered in the Cayman Islands, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Yet, the new speaker was elected largely by the votes of the Labour MPs in the House of Commons – which just goes to show that the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

Monday, 22 June 2009

South Lanarkshire

We are looking for readers in South Lanarkshire to help flush out the details of what happened in 2004 - when the council introduced its new pay and grading structures.

The council's new job evaluation scheme (named 555 scheme) was very different to the one recommended jointly by COSLA (the Scottish employers’ organisation) COSLA - and the trade unions.

The reasons for South Lanarkshire going its own way have never been properly explained, but the council made up its own in-house 555 scheme – despite being party to the development of a tried and tested national scheme – which cost the public purse £250,000.

So, we are keen to get hold of any documents that can shine a light on the way in which different male and female jobs have been treated.

Some of the traditional male jobs have had their salaries permanently preserved – but only some - so many male workers who joined the council since 2004 are treated differently as well.

We have previously published details in 2008 about two key council jobs – a refuse driver and refuse collector – the names have been withheld for obvious reasons.

Here’s what we said at the time – and South Lanarkshire Council has never disputed these figures:

"For example, a Refuse Driver is currently paid £11.02 per hour - which is Spinal Column Point (SCP) 44 on the pay ladder - according to a pay slip that has been passed to Action 4 Equality Scotland.

Even a humble Refuse Collector is paid £9.50 an hour - which equates to Spinal Column Point 34.

But a basic grade Home Carer (a predominantly female job, of course) is paid only £6.65 per hour - a lowly Spinal Column Point 10.

So, the difference between the female carer's job and the male refuse worker's job is a whopping £4.37 per - or £8,400 a year for a full-time worker!"


If you have any information that will help get to the bottom of what's been going on in South Lanarkshire – drop Mark Irvine a note or ring Carol Fox on 0191 226 3282.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Specialist in Discrmination

Good news for clients of Stefan Cross Solicitors (SCS) in Scotland.

Carol Fox, Head of Litigation for SCS - has just been accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a specialist in Discrimination Law.

Discrimination can take many forms:

  1. Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay
  2. Race Discrimination
  3. Age Discrimination
  4. Discrimination on the grounds of a person's sexuality
  5. Discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief
  6. Disability Discrimination
  7. Wider issues of discrimination - affecting part-time workers, pregnancy dismissals, for example
Carol currently the only such specialist in Scotland acting solely on behalf of individuals pursuing claims - i.e. Carol does not act for employers or those defending discrimination claims.

Welcoming the news, Carol commented:

"I'm delighted to receive this recognition from the Law Society and will use my experience and expertise to challenge discrimination at the workplace in all its forms - to the best of my ability and in the best interests of claimants in Scotland.

"I have a passionate commitment to equality and since joining Stefan Cross Solicitors nine months ago and I am working hard with Stefan, Paul Clark and others to ensure that equal pay becomes a reality in Scotland - and that we achieve the best outcome possible for our clients."


Tuesday, 9 June 2009

MPs, Hotels and Expenses

A recent enquiry to the House of Commons Information Office confirms that the Westminster Parliament sat for only 165 days last year.

Parliament is normally in formal session on only 3 days a week – Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday – and many MPs can easily travel down to London on the Tuesday morning and come back on Thursday evening.

The truth is that MPs don’t need to be in London for 165 nights during a normal business year – lots of MPs and ministers are also away from London on official business or foreign trips – racking up extra accommodation and other costs into the bargain.

Maybe they need to stay in London 125 nights - at best - as an average across all 646 MPs.


At the moment the maximum second home (Additional Costs Allowance) that MPs can claims is £23,083 every year – if they all claim up to the limit the cost runs to almost £15 million per year.

So, why not do away with all this scandal and introduce a new rule requiring MPs to stay in a hotel when they’re in London – that would cut out all this nonsense about buying fancy furniture and expensive items for the home.

Give them £100 per night – even Basil Fawlty could get a decent, albeit basic, hotel for that price in London – especially with regular bookings - and it would have the huge attraction of saving the public purse millions of pounds.

£100 per night x 125 nights = £12,500 a year instead of the current maximum of £23,083.
Just think how much money the tax payer would save – and how much time honourable members would save:

1. No more time and expense on buying houses for your ducks
2. No more cleaners and gardeners to look after your second home
3. No more expensive charges incurred hunting for that ideal city flat
4. No more driving cross country, delivering furniture to your London pad
5. No more difficult decisions about choosing which giant plasma TV to install


End of problem.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Time For Change

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper confirmed that the big four unions – GMB, Unite, Unison and Usdaw - donated more than £8 million of the £9.2 million donated last year to the Labour party.

And that’s not even an election year - when spending shoots up dramatically.

Do ordinary union members get value for their money?

Well on equal pay, for example – the long running union link with Labour has failed to make much of an impact - not much has improved over the past 12 years.

Over the past decade – the affiliated unions must have donated around £100 million to the Labour party – money raised from members’ paying their weekly or monthly subscriptions.

But maybe that money would have been better spent campaigning hard on the real priorities of ordinary union members – instead of filling the coffers of just one political party.

In Scotland union members vote the same way as everyone else – they support the SNP, Lib Dems, Green Party, Conservatives, the different Socialist parties and even the odd Independent.

In Scotland, Labour is just another ‘minority’ party - and an increasingly unpopular one at that.

So, the unions continuing love affair with Labour makes no sense – it doesn’t reflect the views of the wider membership.

Time for change.

Advertising Standards Authority

Stefan Cross Solicitors has registered a complaint about Unison's recent ‘attack’ advert – to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Here’s a quick summary:

1. The advert sets out to denigrate the activities of a competitor, i.e. Stefan Cross Solicitors.

2. The advert makes a deliberate issue about the origin and nationality of Stefan Cross Solicitors – using inappropriate language to describe Stefan Cross Solicitors as an ‘English’ firm

3. This is in stark contrast to the union’s description of itself as Unison Scotland - not as Scottish Unison or a Scottish trade union.

4. Stefan Cross Solicitors is, in fact, a UK organisation operating in both Scotland and England - ironically as Unison does itself.

5. The race, nationality and origins of Stefan Cross Solicitors are – or at least should be - irrelevant when it comes to equal pay.

6. The advert use of the word ‘English’, in the first paragraph of the text, is designed to convey a negative, anti-English sentiment to a Scottish audience.

7. The complaint goes on to say that ethnic origin and nationality of Stefan Cross Solicitors has no place in an advert that is supposed to be about the provision of legal services.

8. In effect, Unison has published a ‘dog whistle’ advert with unpleasant racial overtones.

Retired Workers

Thousands of council workers in Scotland retire every year – around 5% of the workforce or so.

This means that between 1999 and 2005 - around 30,000 council employees who should have benefited from the 1999 Single Status Agreement – were been allowed to retire without being paid a single penny in compensation.

What should have happened is that all employees retiring or leaving their jobs during that period - should have been advised to protect their rights to equal pay - by registering a ‘protective’ claim before they left or within 6 months of their employment ending.


Not a difficult thing to do - by any means.

But no one took the issue of equal pay sufficiently seriously to protect the interest of these employees - whose jobs had been undervalued and underpaid for years.

The sad news is that the workers who retired and made no claim within 6 months are now out of time because of the time limits in the Employment Tribunals.

And that outcome is extremely unfair on thousands of female employees whose pension and retirement benefits are much lower than they should be.


For example, male Refuse Worker might retire on have retired on benefits relating to a £20,000 annual salary – a bigger pension and lump sum.

Yet, a female Home Carer was allowed to retire on the much smaller salary of about £13,000 a year (full-time) – the result being a much smaller lump sum and lower pension.

Now that really is a terrible way to treat all of these women workers - many of whom spent a twenty or thirty years serving their local communities.


Freedom Come All Ye - South Lanarkshire

Here’s a copy of a recent FOI request to South Lanarkshire Council – regarding its local pay and grading structures.

The male jobs in question (Refuse Drivers) are on higher Spinal Column Points (SCPs) than many female jobs.

Yet the female jobs appear to have at least the same, if not higher, levels of skill and responsibility. Jobs such as carers, cooks/catering managers, classroom assistants and clerical workers.

And our information is that many of the male jobs are permanently preserved on even higher SCP rates – well above the normal ceiling of SCP 28 – ever since the council introduced its new ‘single status’ pay arrangements in 2004.

Up until now, the council has refused to disclose the true position – we are using Freedom of Information to bring these details out into the open – where they belong.

More to follow – watch this space.

Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

BY E-MAIL

Dear Mr Strang

FOI Request

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I am seeking pay information in respect of specific South Lanarkshire Council jobs:

1. How many posts does the council currently employ in Job Category - Land Services Operative LSO 3 (2)?


2. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 25?

3. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 26?

4. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 27?

5. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 28?

6. Please specify how many posts/post holders in Job Category LSO 3 (2) were placed on salary preservation once South Lanarkshire Council introduced its local Single Status arrangements in April 2004?

7. Please specify the current number of preserved salary posts at each of the spinal column points between Spinal Column Points 29 to 50. In other words, how many LSO 3 (2) posts are preserved at Spinal Column Point 29, Spinal Column Point 30, Spinal Column Point 40 and so on – up to and including Spinal Column Point 50?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine


NB As you may know, the Job Category Land Services Operative (LSO) 3 (2) was formerly known as a council Refuse Driver

Consulting the Workforce

In the spring of 1999 the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was put to a ballot of all union members in Scotland.

The result was overwhelming with a majority of over 90% voting to support the new arrangements - which included a non-discriminatory and nationally recommended job evaluation scheme (JES).

The intention of the new JE scheme was to give a better deal for thousands of female dominated jobs – which had been undervalued and underpaid for years.

Then not much happened, with different deadlines coming and then going - until Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross came along in August 2005 - and began explaining the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs.

As council workers began submitting hundreds and then thousands of equal pay claims - the employers and trade unions panicked - and hastily drew up another agreement under the guise of Scottish Council Circular SJC/22 in November 2005.

SJC Circular/22 recognised that many low paid council workers had valid equal pay claims – and it proposed levels of compensation for individual councils to consider.

But the levels of compensation agreed by the employers and the trade unions were never properly explained - or put to a vote of ordinary union members. Nor was any account was taken of the many people working overtime hours or beyond their normal contracted hours.

How strange that the high standards set for consulting the grassroots in 1999 - could be so easily set aside in 2005.

As things turned out, many employers ignored the advice in SJC Circular/22 - by making offers of settlement which watered down even further the compensation levels agreed with the unions - but not put directly to the workforce.

And that's why so many people have turned to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors for advice.

Freedom Come All Ye - Glasgow

Here’s a copy of a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Glasgow City Council – regarding its new pay and grading structures (WPBR).

The point of the enquiry is to establish how the new system has affected different groups of men and women within the council.

Do the traditional male groups fare better than the female groups – as we suspect?


The killer facts will be contained in the breakdown of men and women within the various payments bands – which are worth thousands of pounds a year, in many cases.

We will share the information with readers – when the council responds.

Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council
City Chambers
George Square
Glasgow
G2 1DU


BY E-MAIL

Dear Mr Black

Freedom of Information Request – Council Workforce Pay and Benefits Review

I would like to make the following enquiry under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

The information I am requesting relates to the Council’s 2006 Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) and, specifically, the payment levels awarded to council employees in respect of Non-Core Pay.

Payment Level/Scoring Range
A: 3 to 5 points
B: 6 to 10 points
C: 11 to 15 points
D: 16 to 20 points
E: 21 to 25 points
F: 26 points

1. Please confirm the current (2009) Monetary Value per annum for Payment Levels A to F.
2. Please confirm the total number of staff in each of the Payment Levels A to F.

3. Please confirm the numbers of male and female workers in each of the Payment Levels A to F.

If there have been any changes to the WPBR Payment Levels and Scoring ranges since these were first introduced in 2006, I would be grateful if you could explain the nature of the changes in your reply.

I look forward to hearing from you soon

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

Jacqueline Quinn - An Apology

On 22nd December 2008 and again on 2nd February 2009 we published an article under the headings “Storms and Teacups” and “Storms and Teacups (2)” on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site – http://www.action4equalityscotland.blogspot.com/

In this article, we referred to an action which had been raised by Mrs Jacqueline Quinn against Stefan Cross in the Court of Session.

We now accept that Mrs Quinn was fully within her rights to challenge the Contingency Fee Agreement with Stefan Cross and acknowledge that on 16th December 2008 the Court granted an Order which declared that “the pretended contract for the provision of legal services entered into between the Defenders and Pursuer for the provision of legal services ...... is void and of no force or effect, ........” and that in the same Order the Court prohibited Stefan Cross from raising an action for payment against Mrs Quinn “for sums due under (the) pretended contract”.

Although Stefan Cross Solicitors chose not to defend the case in the Court of Session, we do accept Mrs Quinn was not in breach of any contract with Stefan Cross and apologise to her for any suggestion to the contrary, and for any offence this suggestion may have caused.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

"But We Are the Stable"

In all the column inches that have been written about the MPs’ expenses scandal – the following (anonymous) quote stands out for its candour and honesty:

“We talk of cleaning the stable,” said one minister, “but we are the stable.”

At times of great crisis – someone always seems to sum up the courage to say what needs to be said - without fear or favour - without seeking party advantage – and without making pathetic excuses.

So, I take my hat off to the minister concerned – whoever s/he may be.

The truth may hurt our honourable members – but the truth still needs to be heard.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Female Window Dressing

Caroline Flint, the former Europe Minister, resigned from the government yesterday - and went on to accuse the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, of treating his women colleagues as 'Female Window Dressing'.

The force of her attack was blunted by the fact that she spoke out - yet only after not getting the big cabinet promotion she felt her performance and party loyalty deserved.

But that should not obscure the fact that she's right - we live in a sexist world where people in positions of great power and responsibility - say one thing, then do another.

If you ask any employer: "Do you believe in equal pay and equal treatment?" - they would say "Yes", unequivocally and without hesitation.

And they would have given the same answer at any point over the past 10 years.

So too would the trade unions - very vehemently, no doubt.

How is it then that the women's work has been so badly undervalued and underpaid for all these years - right in the heart of the public sector where the trade unions are relatively strong - and where so many councils wear their political hearts on their sleeves?

The answer is that while all of these people say they support equal pay in public - when push comes to shove - they never devote the time, energy and resources to achieve - what they say they believe in - with such passion and conviction.

The truth is that they don't really believe in what they're saying - even now, even after new pay structures have been introduced - many female dominated jobs continue to be paid less that traditional male jobs.

Whatever is said in public - in private the rules are contrived to ensure a better outcome for the male jobs - in many areas the old pay differentials still exist.

That's the proof of the pudding.

When it comes to equal pay - like everything else - actions speak much louder than words.

And that's because a tribal, out of date, male dominated culture - is running the show.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Pensions and Equal Pay

As regular readers know, female dominated council jobs experience a real 'double whammy' when it comes to equal pay.

Not only have they been paid less for many years – and many female workers continue to be paid less than men - but this discrimination continues when people reach retirement age.

Take two typical jobs - a Home Carer and Refuse Driver, for example.

Assume both jobs are full-time and that the female carer is paid £15,000 a year - while the refuse worker gets £21,000 a year.

This results in a typical pay gap of around £6,000 per annum (@r £3.00 per hour) based on our experience around the UK.

So, the carer’s equal pay claim is to close the gap of £3.00 per hour and to recover the £6,000 a year – which can be backdated for up to 5 years.

But people's retirement benefits are based on their final salary - so again the women lose out – even under some of the new pay and grading structures.

The maximum benefits under the pension scheme are - half of your final salary and three times your annual pension, paid as tax free lump sum.

So, the refuse worker (on maximum benefits) would get £10,500 a year as a pension - plus £31,500 (3 x £10,500) by way of a lump sum.

The female home carer, on the other hand, would get only £7,500 a year as a pension - plus £22,500 (3 x £7,500) by way of a lump sum.

So, if she lives for 20 years after retiring, the home carer loses out again - by a whopping £69,000 (20 x £3,000 = £60,000 + £9,000 difference in the lump sums)

That's the reason why so many people are waking up to the fact that they have an equal pay claim - even now - and that a successful claim could make a big difference to their lives.

Labour and the Unions

According to the latest opinion polls support for the Labour party is at an all time low.

Only 20% or so (1 in 5) of the general public are now fans of the Labour party, apparently – and things have been heading that way for some considerable time.

Yet trade union bosses have continued to act as loyal cheerleaders for Labour – filling the party coffers on a regular basis - in the full knowledge that their political views are not shared by ordinary union members.

People inside and outside the Labour party believe the present situation cannot continue – witness what the Work and Pensions Minister, James Purnell, had to say recently in the Guardian newspaper (before he resigned from the government):

“The block grants that trade unions contribute towards my party represent a collective donation on behalf of millions of working people, but that contribution has to be more directly made.”

And he’s not alone – here’s what another regular Guardian commentator, Polly Toynbee had to say about Labour’s finances:

“The party is in £11.5 million debt, with no donors – putting it in a firmer grip of a few union barons who themselves represent a smaller fragment of the people than ever. In many hollowed-out local parties, mandated union branches pick the (Labour) councillors and parliamentary candidates. As the parliamentary democratic deficit is uncovered, Labour sees its own moral corrosion.”

What we are witnessing is the slow death of a discredited system that allows trade unions to pretend that they reflect the views of their members – when it comes to party politics.

And that slow death is a good thing – because the present system of affiliating to just one party is unhealthy - and bad for our democracy.

Trade union members are absolutely entitled to support whatever political party they choose – if any.

But they should do so on an individual basis – with their own money, time and energy.

Dog Whistles and Attack Adverts

We’ve been looking into the cost of the recent Unison ‘attack’ advert against Stefan Cross Solicitors - see previous post dated 15 May 2009.

The rates quoted to us for a full-page, full colour advert in a national daily newspaper – come to over £20,000 including VAT.

That’s a lot of members’ money to spend – and for what?

Such lavish spending might have made sense years ago – in pursuit of a something positive for the grassroots members.

Such as advising low paid council workers about their rights to equal pay - from 1999 onwards.

Back in 1999 national newspaper adverts at around £20,000 a throw - would have come in very handy - in getting a across an effective public message - to both union and non-union members.

A big, well resourced public campaign would have helped to protect the interests of thousands of low paid council workers – who left or retired during that period – without receiving a penny piece in compensation over equal pay.

But sadly that’s not what happened – and no doubt people will draw their own conclusions about what to make of the union’s priorities.

Freedom Come All Ye

Freedom of Information (FOI) is what finally brought the MPs' expenses scandal out onto the open.

Even the Prime Minister is now a big fan of Freedom of Information – and says that FOI should go much further - by shining a light into other dark corners of public life.

We agree – because that’s exactly what we’ve been saying for years!

But until the floodgates opened up – largely thanks to the press, it has to be said – ordinary members of the public were completely in the dark about what their MPs were up to with their expenses.

But persistence paid off in the end – people inside and outside Westminster became increasingly disgusted at the attempts to keep things secret – hidden from public scrutiny.

Documents were leaked to the press and - to their credit - even some MPs were prepared to stand up and be counted.

And the same is true when it comes to equal pay.

Some employers still make it very difficult for employees (and others) to understand how different council jobs are paid – relative to one another.

Why do some pay structures obscure as much as they reveal – is it because they have something to hide?

Some employers still conceal how different groups of employees are paid – others refuse to explain how jobs are assessed or scored under their new Job Evaluation (JE) schemes.

So what do we need in relation to equal pay?

We need the same determination to bring things out into the open – because daylight really is the best disinfectant.

‘Openness’ and ‘Transparency’ are the new watchwords for MPs' expenses – and what’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

We want MPs, MSPs and even local councillors to be standing up for their constituents – they don’t even need to take sides in relation to individual equal pay claims.

All they need to do is to ask sensible questions – and demand straight answers.

We plan to share details of some recent Freedom of Information with readers – via the blog site.

The more readers claimants that join in - by asking their own MPs, MSPs and councillors to lend a hand – the sooner all the facts will be on the table.

And the facts as ever – will speak for themselves.

Glasgow and Equal Pay

Glasgow is right in the front line when it comes to equal pay.

Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross solicitors are currently pursuing over 5,000 equal pay claims in Glasgow – the cases fall into various categories with some people having a claim in more than one category:

Work Rated as Equivalent (WRE) Claims
WRE claims are straightforward because the claims are based on any two jobs that have already been rated (or valued) under a common job evaluation (JE) scheme, e.g. the 1987/88 Manual Workers Scheme. Many female dominated jobs such as Home Carers were previously on grade MW 5 but earned much less than a male job such as a Refuse Driver on a lower grade MW 4 – because the male job was on a big bonus - which was kept hidden from the women workers.

Equal Value (EV) Claims
In EV cases, jobs have not been rated under a common JE scheme, but that’s no bar to bringing an equal pay claim. Employment Tribunals can appoint an independent expert to assess the content of different jobs along with their relative skill and responsibility levels. Many APT&C jobs have claims that are just as valid as their manual worker colleagues. For example, Classroom Assistants, School Secretaries and Catering Managers are often paid much less than refuse workers and gardeners.

Post 2006 Claims
Glasgow has settled some of its equal pay claims, but only up to 1 April 2006. After that date, the council continued to protect the higher (bonus related) pay of traditional male jobs. ‘Pay protection’ was part of the original single status negotiations and should have come into play soon after the original 1999 Single Status Agreement. In any event, following a recent judgment at the Court of Appeal, women workers in Glasgow, and elsewhere, can claim the higher rate paid to the men - for the length of the male workers ‘pay protection’ period.

Council Compromise Agreements
Glasgow City Council led the way in organising ‘acceptance’ meetings where employees were offered a cash lump sum – in return for signing a Compromise Agreement. But these agreements may not be valid under s77 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 because employees were directed to a solicitor and law firm chosen by the council. Employees had no role or choice in the process and it has since become clear that the lawyers restricted the scope of their advice - on terms laid down by the council.

Glasgow’s WPBR (Workforce Pay and Benefits Review)
Glasgow City Council has introduced a new concept of Core and Non-Core pay, as a result of its WPBR. In our view, various aspects of the WPBR are discriminatory because it awards additional grading points (and extra pay) to predominantly male jobs. For example, full-time workers get 7 extra points (£800 pa) – just for working full-time. Part-time workers get no such points and, of course, the vast majority of part-time workers are women.

New Glasgow Claims
Glasgow cases continue to come in all the time – and there’s likely to be a fresh wave of claims in connection with the WPBR. It’s not too late for Glasgow employees to make claims - even those who have transferred to Cordia. Our view is that Cordia is an associated employer for equal pay purposes – so transferring employees to a new arm’s length body doesn’t get the council off the hook. The transfer to Cordia affected around 8,000 staff – including cleaners, catering workers, carers, classroom assistants and a variety of admin and clerical workers.

Glasgow GMF Hearing
A key crucial test case involving Glasgow is currently underway – this is a defence hearing where the council has to explain and try to justify the big differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs. The hearing is due to resume in August – and the outcome will influence other similar cases that are in the pipeline.

Settlement Talks
We are always prepared to talk to the council about a negotiated settlement – we have put proposals to the council before - but they chose to take their chances at the employment tribunal. Now that decision doesn’t look so smart, but the ball is in the council’s court. If they want to talk business, we’re prepared to do so as well. If they don’t, then the current cases will proceed through the employment tribunals – and a further wave of WPBR related claims are likely to follow.

Jacqueline Quinn - An Apology

On 22nd December 2008 and again on 2nd February 2009 we published an article under the headings “Storms and Teacups” and “Storms and Teacups (2)” on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site – http://www.action4equalityscotland.blogspot.com/

In this article, we referred to an action which had been raised by Mrs Jacqueline Quinn against Stefan Cross in the Court of Session.

We now accept that Mrs Quinn was fully within her rights to challenge the Contingency Fee Agreement with Stefan Cross and acknowledge that on 16th December 2008 the Court granted an Order which declared that “the pretended contract for the provision of legal services entered into between the Defenders and Pursuer for the provision of legal services ...... is void and of no force or effect, ........” and that in the same Order the Court prohibited Stefan Cross from raising an action for payment against Mrs Quinn “for sums due under (the) pretended contract”.

Although Stefan Cross Solicitors chose not to defend the case in the Court of Session, we do accept Mrs Quinn was not in breach of any contract with Stefan Cross and apologise to her for any suggestion to the contrary, and for any offence this suggestion may have caused.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

West Lothian

Readers from West Lothian have been in touch to say that some employees have received unsolicited letters from the council - in the past day or so.

The letters invite people to accept settlement offers that have previously been rejected - and significantly they have not been copied to Stefan Cross Solicitors.

Apparently, the council is simply re-stating its original settlement offer - but again without explaining how the figures have been calculated.

If that is the case, then there's a very big risk that people are having the wool pulled over their eyes.

Our advice is not to give in to these tactics - and to hold out for a fair settlement of your claim.

If the council has nothing to hide, they should be dealing direct with Stefan Cross Solicitors - as people's named representative.

So, it's highly suspicious and unprofessional for the council to be behaving in this way.

Man the Lifeboats

The Guardian newspaper is a great source of information – about politics generally, but also on ebb and flow of events at Westminster and inside the Labour party.

Last week the paper reported that 52 Labour MPs are getting ready to ‘man the lifeboats’ – by asking the Prime Minister to be elevated to the House of Lords after the next general election.

No doubt many of these MPs conclude that their political careers are about to be derailed by angry voters in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal.

“We are doomed”, one senior Labour figure is reported as saying. “We’re all doing our bit for the elections, but it’s over for Labour”, the report goes on.

Now some people say that the ‘Spanish’ working practices in the House of Lord are even more ludicrous than the House of Commons – hard to believe.

But apparently our peers of the realm receive generous tax free allowances – which they are entitled to claim just for turning up and ‘clocking in’.

What they do after that is nobody’s business, but their own – and no one seems bothered about how that looks to the rest of us.

Just imagine a care worker, cleaner, classroom assistant, clerical worker or school meals staff behaving that way.

Vital council services - delivered by a largely low paid, female workforce - would fall apart overnight.

Falkirk and MPs' Expenses

Readers in Falkirk fighting for equal pay will no doubt be as interested as everyone else - in the ongoing scandal about MPs’ expenses.

Eric Joyce, Labour MP for Falkirk, has been in the news recently.

On 31 May, the Mail on Sunday newspaper (not the Telegraph for a change) reported that in 2001 Eric Joyce bought a property, a family house, in London for a purchase price of £250,000.

In 2008 Eric Joyce sold the house for the sum of £383,000 - making a handsome profit of £133,000.

During that period the newspaper reports that Eric Joyce claimed a total of £120,334 in expenses to run the house – to cover the mortgage and maintenance costs.

So, it cost the MP little or nothing to live there – for all those years – because the tax payer picked up the tab via his MP’s expenses.

But the House of Commons rules also allow the MP to hold onto the profit made on the house – despite the fact that this ‘profit’ was made by using public funds.

No wonder so many people think the rules are crazy – and need to be changed.

The newspaper also reported Eric Joyce should have paid capital gains tax on the London property, as it was registered as the MP’s second home - but that he failed to do so.

Readers in Falkirk may wish to contact Eric Joyce to ask what he is doing to support his local constituents in their fight for equal pay. If so, his e-mail address is:
joycee@parliament.uk

Monday, 1 June 2009

Unsolicited Letters

A number of readers have been in touch to say that they have received unsolicited letters from trade unions - trying to poach clients from Stefan Cross Solicitors.

Anyone thinking about taking up this offer of assistance should be very wary - because they could be encouraged to accept the original settlement offer put forward by the employers - i.e. the same one that Stefan Cross has previously advised clients to reject.

The reason for advising people to reject is that people's equal pay claims are worth much more than the employers offer of settlement - and without knowing how the offers are calculated - people are obviously having the wool pulled over their eyes.

In addition, many people have ongoing claims against their employers - and this crucial detail needs to be carefully explained.

If you receive one of these letters - or have any information to pass on about what the unions and the employers are up to - drop Mark Irvine a note or contact Carol Fox on 0191 226 3282.

In the meantime - don't do anything without seeking proper advice.

Change of Contract

A number of readers have been in touch recently about changes that are being made to their jobs - for one reason or another. What they want to know is - "How do these changes affect my equal pay claim?"

So, here's an exchange of e-mails with one reader that helps to explain the situation - the general rule is - if in doubt, always register a new claim.


Dear Colleague

The council may treat your change to a new job as a change of contract - in which case all you need to do is to take out a new claim in your new post.

Your existing claim will continue, but it may freeze at the point your new contract kicks in - so the safe and sensible thing to do is to register a new claim at that point - then both jobs are covered.

Kind regards


Mark

Presbyterian Consciences

Tony Blair, famously, didn't 'do God' - allegedly on the advice of his press spokesman, Alistair Campbell.

Gordon Brown, apparently, has no such qualms - invoking his Presbyterian conscience on the BBC to show how offended he is about the ongoing scandal of MPs' expenses.

Before going on to say that he didn't come into politics to allow a situation to develop where MPs can run away with money - that they don't deserve.

Well the best that can said about that - after 12 years in government - is: About time too!

Because many MPs are making small personal fortunes they don't deserve - by investing in the property market using public funds - then holding on to the profit element that is released when their property is finally sold.

So, the best way for the Prime Minister to show some leadership on this issue would be to say that this nonsense should stop - and stop now.

And that any 'profits' generated by MPs investing in the property market - should be returned to the tax payer - where they belong.

The additional costs allowance was introduced to prevent MPs from being out of pocket while living away from their constituency homes - it was never intended to turn them into property speculators - rich beyond their dreams, in some cases, and at vast public expense.

And while he's at it the Prime Minister could make it clear that ministers should not be allowed to exploit the system - by living in a 'grace and favour' apartment (e.g. Number 10 Downing Street) - yet still be allowed to claim housing and maintenance costs on their first home.

That's not so much Presbyterian - as just good old-fashioned common sense.