Saturday, 30 June 2012

Weasel Words


The trade unions in South Lanarkshire - especially Unison - continue to get a pasting in the local press for their craven behaviour over equal pay.

Which is richly deserved - in my opinion.

Here's an article from this week's Hamilton Advertiser which a kind reader brought to  my attention - with the wry observation that the union seems to be on the side of the council employer - not the council workers.

But there's little wonder that Unison is on the defensive of course - because the union gave evidence in support of South Lanarkshire Council in the recent employment tribunal case - which concluded that the council's job evaluation scheme (JES) does not comply with equal pay legislation - and is therefore 'not fit to be relied upon'.

Now you would think this would give the unions some pause for thought - time for  reflection even - because they've been cosying up to South Lanarkshire Council for years - instead of doing the right thing by their members. 

Which is why - as in Glasgow City Council - the trade unions in South Lanarkshire have lost all credibility over equal pay - they've acted as little more than cheerleaders for the council and refused to look critically at the reasons for the big pay gap between male and female jobs.

The lack of transparency in South Lanarkshire's JES and its pay systems has been evident for years - but it's Action 4 Equality Scotland which has been challenging the council and asking all the awkward questions - not the trade unions.

Unison and Equal Pay Dispute

by Julie Gilbert (Hamilton Advertiser)

The union representing women fighting for equal pay at South Lanarkshire Council have defended their handling of the issue.

Unison came under criticism last week after the Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled the council’s job evaluation scheme did not comply with the Equal Pay Act.

Thousands of female council workers who claim they are being paid less than men for doing equal amounts of work will now be able to have their cases assessed by the tribunal and could potentially recieve six years of back pay.

Solicitor Carol Fox, who is representing 2400 of the women with equal pay disputes at the tribunal, said that Unison owed their members an apology for initially telling women they had no case against the council.

Fox Cross Solicitors, together with Action4Equality, have been fighting the council since 2005 but Unison did not join the battle until just over a year ago.

However, Unison’s Lanarkshire Branch Secretary Stephen Smillie said that when the council’s job evaluation scheme was first set up the union believed it did comply with the Equal Pay Act.

They did not want to go to tribunal at that point. They said a fair and compliant job evaluation would be a defence against any equal pay claim.

However, as issues arose regarding the scheme’s transparency, the union made the decision to join the tribunal and they insist they have always had their members’ interests at heart.

Mr Smillie said: “The job evaluation scheme was first introduced in the late 1990s. There’s been a whole number of developments and different cases since then.

“We felt after these cases were held that clarity was needed on the point of transparency and that’s when we joined the tribunal case which was being led by Fox Cross.

"There was no evidence that the scheme was discriminatory – if it was we wouldn’t have been involved in it.

“It’s on the point of transparency that it fails.”

The transparency argument centres on the point that every worker has the right to look at the salary scale and understand how they are paid and why, and that every worker has the right to know how comparable workers are paid and why.

If those being represented by Unison win an equal pay claim, then they will only get pay backdated to when Unison joined the tribunal, whereas those being represented by other solicitors will get back pay to when they joined the tribunal, in some cases as long as six years ago.

However, Mr Smillie points out that unlike a no win, no fee lawyer, Unison will not be deducting a fee from any settlement employees win.

He is also keen to point out that no-one with an equal pay dispute is guaranteed money at this stage.

He said: “It’s been described as a victory. No-one has got their money yet, no-one is going to get any money at this stage, and no-one has won an equal pay case.

“One of the concerns I have is publishing how much money will be paid out and saying people are going to get it before Christmas.

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Do As I Say


I've been a big critic of our high street banks for many years - in fact ever since I complained about their poor advice, hidden charges and lousy service about ten years ago now.

In fact my complaint was upheld by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) which helps to regulate the banking sector - so I;m not an 'armchair critic' as far as this particular subject is concerned.

Which is why I had to laugh at the comments of Labour leader - Ed Miliband -yesterday when he called for change at the top of Barclays bank which has become embroiled in the latest scandal to hit the industry - fixing interest and lending rates.

Ed's rationale for demanding that heads should roll at Barclays is that some senior figures were still in their posts when this bad behaviour was going on - and either turned a blind eye to events or were not courageous enough to make a stand.

So they are not the right people to bring about the sweeping changes now required to restore public confidence in the banking industry - is the obvious line of argument.

Now I agree with this general point albeit without looking at the actual evidence - which is a dangerous thing to do - but what I find disagreeable about Ed Miliband's comments is that you could say exactly the same thing about Ed and the Labour party.

Because for years when the Labour government was completely riven by a terrible feud between Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Chancellor, Gordon Brown - yet Ed Miliband and other senior figures (Ed Balls and Harriet Harman, for example) just looked the other way - pretending nothing was wrong.

At best they sat on their hands - at worst they gave tacit support to Gordon Brown - who went on, as everyone knows, to become the worst Labour leader and Prime Minister in living memory.

So in my view it's not smart for Ed Miliband to be climbing on his moral high horse - not without looking like someone who is only wise after the event - like a 'Do as I say, not as I do' kind of politician.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

South Lanarkshire


Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the Employment Tribunal's decision in respect of South Lanarkshire Council (SLC).
 
The key point to note is that South Lanarkshire Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) has been declared 'unfit for purpose' – because it does not satisfy the most basic requirements of the UK's equal pay legislation including the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
 
The Glasgow Employment Tribunal - in a quite devastating judgement – determined that the in-house SLC job evaluation scheme ‘is not to be relied upon’ as far as equal pay is concerned.
 
So where does that leave South Lanarkshire Council?
 
In a dirty great hole and one entirely of its own making - I would say - though many of the senior people responsible for this mess have now left South Lanarkshire Council - some with big fat pensions, of course.
 
The council put all its eggs in one basket - it relied upon its 'in-house' job evaluation scheme as a complete defence to employees' equal pay claims - but now that strategy has blown up in the council's face.
 
"So what should people do now?” – is the question on many readers’ lips.
 
Well if you already have an equal pay claim up and running with Action 4 Equality Scotland - then you should do nothing other than sit tight – because your claim is already well underway.
 
But if you do not, then you should consider raising a claim against South Lanarkshire Council - straight away.
 
You can do so either by sending Mark Irvine your name and full postal address by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com
 
Or phone the Action 4 Equality Scotland Edinburgh office - on 0131 652 7366.
 
In any event I would definitely resist any invitation to take up a claim with one of the trade unions.
 
Because for years the unions were telling their own members that they had no equal pay claim – and actively discouraged people from raising claims in South Lanarkshire.
 
The reality is that the unions have been supporting the council all this time and – as far as I’m concerned - it's pretty clear that the trade unions can't be trusted to do the right thing by their members.
 
It’s possible that lots of council workers in South Lanarkshire may even have a case against their own trade unions.
 
Because if you were discouraged from pursuing an equal pay claim in the past – on the advice of your trade union – any claim registered in 2012 will be worth less than those lodged in 2006.

Distinguished Global Leader


Scotland's one and only (as far as I'm aware) Distinguished Global Leader in Residence - also known as Gordon Brown MP - has been back in the headlines recently.

The former Labour leader and Prime Minister was giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry - into phone hacking and press standards.

By all accounts Gordon Brown gave the distinct impression that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth - and that he was the victim of a terrible conspiracy - instead of just being exposed as pretty much useless when he finally landed the top job.

Here's an interesting article from the Sunday Times which lays bare the feuding at the heart of the last Labour government - tales that were always denied until Labour lost the 2010 general election - then everyone started writing books that confirmed how awful things really were.

Oh, Gordon, you can’t be serious

The former PM’s apparent fluid relationship with the truth resurfaced last week. Is he a liar, a fantasist or just in denial?

Isabel Oakeshott and Mark Hookham

When Gordon Brown gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry last week, there were gasps of disbelief at Westminster. In offices around the House of Commons, Labour MPs and political journalists were dumbstruck as the former prime minister denied aspects of his premiership that are so well documented and were so widely experienced that to suggest they had not happened seemed to be rewriting history.

Staring at his desk and fiddling nervously with his ear, Brown could not quite look Robert Jay QC, his inquisitor, in the eye as he denied his aides had exploited the media to try to force Tony Blair from office. He then dismissed as “tittle-tattle” any suggestion that his former special advisers Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride had ever behaved improperly.

Jaws dropped at Westminster as Brown claimed he never knew what his notorious apparatchiks got up to during their long-running campaign to install him as prime minister in place of Blair and crush all opposition to his regime once he reached No 10.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Peter Watt, former general secretary of the Labour party. “Everyone who was around at the time knows it’s true.”

When Brown publicly denied that he had considered calling an early election in October 2007, he gained a reputation for having a fluid relationship with the truth in his public utterances. Now his reputation is on the line over his testimony delivered under oath. Lord Justice Leveson said before he began his inquiry that when he eventually reported, he would criticise those individuals who he felt had misled him.

An examination of the evidence — from insider accounts of Brown’s regime, including the autobiographies of several of his closest colleagues, as well as testimony to Leveson by other Labour figures — raises the question of whether Brown was deceiving, deluded or in denial when he took the stand.

Since Labour lost power, Brown has rarely been seen at Westminster. These days he is an isolated figure, barely in contact even with those who were his closest allies while he was chancellor and prime minister, so there was widespread interest in how he would handle his appearance before Leveson.

At first it seemed he might approach it with dignity as he talked in his opening statement of an “enforced period of reflection” since Labour was ousted and the importance of a free and independent press. When the questioning by Jay began, however, his tone changed. He began by contradicting evidence given by other witnesses and denying activities that were witnessed or experienced by numerous MPs and journalists during his reign.

Doubts about the credibility of his evidence began when he was questioned about a telephone conversation with Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, owner of this newspaper, in autumn 2009. According to evidence given by Murdoch, they spoke after The Sun’s dramatic shift of support to the Conservatives during the Labour party conference that September. Murdoch says Brown threatened to “make war” on his company in revenge.

Last week Brown denied they spoke about The Sun’s switch. “This is the conversation that Mr Murdoch says happened between him and me — where I threatened him and where I’m alleged to have acted in an unbalanced way. This conversation never took place,” he said, adding that the only conversation he had had with Murdoch during that period was about The Sun’s coverage of the war in Afghanistan. The Cabinet Office said on Friday that a check on calls made through the Downing Street switchboard backed Brown’s claim.

In his evidence to the inquiry Lord Mandelson, the former Labour cabinet minister, said he remembered Brown telling him about a conversation with Murdoch when they discussed The Sun’s decision to back the Tories. “I cannot remember being told by Mr Brown what he said . . . but I know what he said to me about Rupert Murdoch’s reaction,” Mandelson told Leveson. So unless both Murdoch and Mandelson are lying or mistaken, a conversation of some sort about The Sun’s switch did take place.

Brown was then questioned about the role of special advisers at Westminster, in particular his former spokesmen Whelan, who was forced to resign in 1999 for allegedly leaking information about Mandelson’s home loan, and McBride, his spokesman when he became prime minister, who was also forced to quit in a scandal. Brown was asked about the evidence of Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former spin chief, who said there had been a “real problem” with Whelan’s behaviour.

Instead of accepting Whelan was notorious at Westminster for his briefings against MPs and his pugnacious style, Brown launched into a long denial, bizarrely claiming his political advisers always “worked through the head of communications, who was a civil servant”. He said even off-the-record briefings by advisers had to be cleared by mandarins. “They had to go through the civil service head,” he said.

To the dozen or so favoured lobby reporters regularly on the receiving end of such briefings — often late at night in a pub — the idea that they were sanctioned by any civil servant is laughable. Both Whelan and McBride were so trusted by their boss they appeared to have been given a free rein. Although Brown probably did not know precisely what they were up to, he can have been in little doubt that it involved making mischief on his behalf.

In the memoirs of Alistair Darling, formerly a close ally of Brown, he says Brown operated like Henry II. “He didn’t order the knights to go and kill [Thomas] Becket but they believed they had his blessing to do so,” wrote Darling.

When quizzed about this description at Leveson, Brown said: “These sound very dramatic comments. No, they’re not near the mark at all. Quite wrong and quite the opposite of what actually happened.”

One of Brown’s aides at the time struggled to hide his embarrassment when asked about this aspect of Brown’s evidence last week. “None of us knew exactly what Damian was up to. Gordon had so many aides he couldn’t have kept tabs on their movements all the time. But the idea everything went through the head of comms . . . uh, well,” he tailed off.

Before Brown became prime minister the chief target of his briefing machine was Blair. When asked by Jay whether his aides were “involved in using the media to force or attempt to force Mr Blair’s resignation”, Brown looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I would hope not,” he replied. Pressed, he repeated the line, adding he had “no evidence of that” and would not have authorised such behaviour.

In fact, towards the end of the Blair years, when Brown was desperate to hasten his departure, lobby reporters regularly received briefings and leaks, including restricted documents, from Brown’s inner circle, designed to undermine the prime minister. Naturally, the journalists were grateful and protected the leakers in return.

Once their master was installed in No 10, McBride and a number of other aides turned their fire on ministers who were perceived to be disloyal or to pose a threat to Brown. Among those who witnessed this ruthless operation was Harriet Harman, now deputy Labour leader.

According to Darling’s autobiography, in October 2008 she overheard McBride briefing against her at a party conference and was so incensed she told Brown she would report the adviser to the cabinet secretary unless he was reined in.

Even if Brown was initially blissfully ignorant of McBride’s ways, as time went by others told him what was going on.

In his autobiography Mandelson describes McBride as Brown’s attack dog, a description that has been repeated by umpteen Labour figures. The former business secretary writes that the spin doctor “developed a reputation for briefing against anyone who was perceived to threaten his boss’s interests” — a suggestion Brown last week dismissed as “tittle-tattle” despite identical claims by other insiders.

In his book Darling tells how “the briefing machine at No 10 and Gordon’s attack dogs” turned on him after he gave an interview to The Guardian describing the recession as “arguably . . . the worst downturn there has been in 60 years”. Brown was incandescent and Darling has told how it was “like the forces of hell being unleashed on me”.

He writes: “For days after the Guardian piece ran, journalists told us they were being told repeatedly that I had made a hash of it. Well-sourced speculation that I was about to be reshuffled began to appear in the media.” Darling tells how he confronted Brown and was stonewalled: “He said he was not responsible for it; it was nothing to do with him.”

While Brown suggested last week he would never have treated Darling badly — “he was a friend as well as a colleague”, Darling blames him for what happened, saying in his book that their once close relationship would “never be the same again”. Harman and Darling were not the only ministers to confront Brown about McBride’s behaviour. In his book Brown at 10, the political historian Anthony Seldon claims Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband, members of Brown’s cabinet, “joined forces” to complain, telling Brown: “You can’t have the prime minister’s press spokesman calling the chancellor a ‘c***’ in bars.”

When questioned about this and another warning from Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, Brown replied huffily: “Oh, I can’t remember all these things.”

In his evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Miliband said: “On Damian McBride, when I was a cabinet minister I did raise a specific concern that I had with Mr Brown, I believe in September 2008, about some of Mr McBride’s activities.”

Seldon says in his book that some ministers felt Brown “acted in a mafia boss’s manner, pretending to have no knowledge of the unsavoury acts done in his name”. But he adds: “McBride himself had no doubts about the truth. ‘You prove your loyalty to GB by your brutality,’ he believes.”

While members of Brown’s inner circle repeatedly warned him about McBride, demanding he be moved, Brown refused all entreaties to act until April 2009, when his hand was forced. Leaked emails between McBride and another apparatchik, Derek Draper, discussing plans for a smear campaign against Tory MPs and their wives, exposed the spin doctor’s modus operandi.

There were many other victims of this operation, including Ivan Lewis, a former health minister, who was targeted in autumn 2008 after suggesting Labour seemed “out of touch”. A highly embarrassing story appeared in the News of the World and in The Mail on Sunday, suggesting he had “bombarded” a young female aide with suggestive phone messages.

In his book about the rise and fall of new Labour, The End of the Party, Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer political columnist, describes how the story was “planted” by No 10 aides. Lewis himself has never publicly accused Brown’s inner circle of being behind it but let it be known at the time that he was in no doubt about the source.

This weekend Labour MPs and activists are debating why the former prime minister talked such apparent nonsense at Leveson.

Watt, who was in charge of the Labour party machine in 2006 and 2007, had a ringside seat during two of the most turbulent Blair-Brown years and is astonished by Brown’s claims. “His evidence was utterly bizarre. It was such common knowledge that Gordon and Gordon’s people were briefing against their opponents and against Tony that for him to deny it seemed unbelievable,” he said last week.

Is the former prime minister a liar, a fantasist or in denial? Watt says Brown finds it “virtually impossible to admit mistakes”.

A former minister believes Brown has persuaded himself he is a victim: “He feels he was awfully treated by the press. He is very, very sore. He does not feel he is the guilty party.”

McBride leapt to his former boss’s defence last week. He said Brown was correct to assert that he and Whelan did not brief anonymously at his instigation. He also described Darling’s Henry II analogy as “total nonsense. I’m afraid Alistair — with whom I was previously very close — was lulled into a total paranoia about this kind of thing”.

Of Seldon’s quote about proving loyalty through brutality, McBride said: “I’ve never said those words and I don’t believe them to be true. I’d have sued Seldon for falsely attributing that to me if I had any reputation to protect.”

Whelan chose to shut his ears. “Sorry, been fishing all week so not up with news,” he said.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Hammered With Tax


I've thought up my very own joke on the back of all this tax avoidance business - involving the comedian Jimmy Carr.

Q: 'What's the difference between Jesus Christ and Jimmy Carr? 

A: 'Only one of them got hammered with tax!'

I wonder if Jimmy would find this funny - maybe I should send it to him or his agent and charge a royalty fee.

NB With thanks to Unibond and its 'No More Nails' campaign.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Famous Last Words


I am currently trawling through the blog site archive searching for interesting articles about the equal pay debacle in South Lanarkshire Council - here's one I came across from 27 August 2011.

I have highlighted a couple of comments from the council leader - Eddie McAvoy - who, in my considered opinion, is understating the problems facing the council by a very long way.

Because South Lanarkshire is now in a much deeper hole - than its neighbour in North Lanarkshire.

So the real question for South Lanarkshire is: 'When will the council finally stop digging and making its equal pay problems even worse?'

"Bitter Equal Pay Battle"

Here's a good article on the ongoing fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire - which appears in this week's edition of the Hamilton Advertiser.

The piece might well be published in other local papers - which are part of the same newspaper group.

Readers will note that the Hamiton Advertiser is asking its readers what they think of the 'equal pay battle' in South Lanarkshire - either via the telephone (01698 283200) or by e-mailing the paper at: hamiltonadvertiser@s-un.co.uk

So this is a great opportunity to let a local newspaper know what people in South Lanarkshire really think - about the way in which council and the trade unions have behaved over equal pay.

To my mind the Labour-led council and the Labour-supporting unions have been far too close to each other - in each other's pockets effectively - and the people who have lost out are the lowest paid council workers - mainly women of course.

If readers contacting the newspaper are worried about using their own names and personal details - just say that you do not want to be identified - because the paper will withhold this information.

"South Lanarkshire Council locked in bitter equal pay battle"

"SOUTH Lanarkshire Council are currently locked in a bitter battle with their own staff over equal pay.

No fewer than 2133 employees and former staff – most of them women – have lodged claims under the Equality Act and sex discrimination legislation.

The women believe the council pay them less than men, even though their jobs are of equal worth and, in some cases, require higher qualifications.

Lawyers have been instructed to represent the claimants at an employment tribunal pre-hearing which resumes later this month.

It has been going on intermittently since September, 2009, and is likely to conclude in early October after hearing over 54 days of evidence. It’s one of the longest pre-hearings on record.

Lawyers engaged by the council have finished presenting their case and, from August 31, the claimants’ solicitors will give their evidence.

The tribunal panel, chaired by employment law judge Frances Eccles will then have to decide whether the way in which the council evaluated jobs, following the introduction of equal pay legislation, was fair. A decision is expected before Christmas.

If the council lose the case, they will have to fork out millions of pounds in back payments – stretching over the last 10 years – to the claimants, many of whom are low-paid frontline workers in schools and social work.

South Lanarkshire Council are one of the last authorities to settle their claims under equal pay legislation.

North Lanarkshire Council in April last year agreed to pay out £16m to hundreds of workers who were threatening legal challenge.

A year earlier, Glasgow City Council paid out £26m to 4000 female workers who had equal pay claims outstanding.

South Lanarkshire Council thought they had settled their equal pay issues in 2003 when they concluded a so-called ‘single outcome agreement’ with unions.

But the row has rumbled on since then, with employees claiming that the agreement graded jobs unfairly in comparison to others.

Bosses at the council have continually resisted releasing information – on how the council evaluated traditionally male-dominated jobs in the authority – to lawyers acting for the female claimants.

Earlier this year, they lodged an appeal to the Court of Session against a decision by Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion ordering them to release the data. The court has yet to hear the council’s appeal.

That Freedom of Information request was lodged by Mark Irvine, the independent consultant and former senior union official, who is representing many of the claimants on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Mr Irvine, who runs the Action 4 Equality Scotland website, instructed Edinburgh-based labour law specialists Fox Cross Solicitors to represent claimants at the employment tribunal.

He said: “What we have been trying to do is to get South Lanarkshire Council to explain how they went about putting together the new pay structures."

“South Lanarkshire are unique among Scottish councils in not being willing to tell people what rates of pay are for specific jobs."

“It seems to be a state secret in South Lanarkshire.”

Mr Irvine, who has had to used the Freedom of Information Act to extract pay data from the council, said the local authority’s appeal to the Court of Session would cost thousands of pounds of public money.

“Why are they trying to keep that information under wraps if they don’t have something to hide?” he added.

Mr Irvine said the claims being processed by Fox Cross and Action 4 Equality came from home carers, cooks, catering assistants and teaching assistants, some of whom had retired since the proceedings began.

He added: “You can have a cook in charge of a school kitchen who is managing a staff of 10 and requires qualifications for her job."

“She can be paid less than traditional male manual jobs, typically a refuse worker, gardener or driver.”

Many of the female claimants say their jobs did not attract the ‘bonus’ payment paid to those in male-dominated posts such as binmen and roadworkers. These further skewed rates of pay in male and female-dominated sections of the council.

Council Leader Eddie McAvoy estimated that if they lose the case they will probably have to pay about the same required by North Lanarkshire to settle their cases.

He added, however: “The council’s position is that the deal struck by the council with the union took care of all the (pay inequalities).

“The lawyers, including counsel, hired by the council to represent them in these cases are very confident that the council have no case to answer.”

What do you think of the council staff’s equal pay battle? Let us know by contacting editorial on 01698 283200 or by sending an email to hamiltonadvertiser@s-un.co.uk

Friday, 22 June 2012

Up The Creek


The Hamilton Advertiser has reported on the recent Employment Tribunal judgement against South Lanarkshire Council - here's what the paper had to say.

I have to laugh at the council's attempt to clutch at any passing straw - with the rather ridiculous comment that their job evaluation scheme was not found to be sex discrminatory.

Because it makes no difference whether the job evaluation scheme was designed deliberately to discriminate against female employees of the council.

The key point is that the scheme was judged to be 'unfit for purpose' - because it failed to satisfy the basic requirements of equal pay legislation - including the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

So even if the big pay differences between male and female council jobs - were the result of incompetence rather than deliberate acts - this does not invalidate people's equal pay claims.

At the end of the day South Lanarkshire Council is still responsible. 

I suppose a good analogy is driving at 100 miles per hour in a 20 miles per hour zone -  it is not a defence to say that you are ignorant of the law.

In my view South Lanarkshire Council is 'up the creek without a paddle' - and if I were a local politician I'd be asking:

'How did the council got into such a terrible mess - when it has so many senior officials and highly paid advisers?'

2400 women win landmark Equal Pay against South Lanarkshire Council

by Gary Fanning

More than 2400 women have won a landmark case to pursue South Lanarkshire Council for equal pay.

The Employment Tribunal this week ruled that the Job Evaluation Scheme used by South Lanarkshire Council does not comply with the provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970 (now incorporated into the provisions of the Equality Act 2010).

Fox Cross Solicitors Limited and Action 4 Equality (Scotland) Limited represent over 2400 claimants with ongoing equal pay claims against the local authority which have steadfastly refused to settle these cases.

The tribunal heard that – as early as 1999 – the designer of the council’s scheme attended a cross-Scotland COSLA Task Force on Equal Pay which acknowledged that women in local authorities had valid equal pay claims, but decided at that time not to end the discrimination and settle the claims.

At that time the claims were worth two years’ back pay.

The case will now proceed to consideration by the tribunal of the claimants’ equal pay claims.

The claimants hope that, instead of spending yet more taxpayers’ money, the council will now recognise the need to settle these claims.

The council defended the longest-running equal pay case in Scotland at a PHR (Pre-Hearing Review) between September 2009, and December 2011, for over 50 days at the employment tribunal in Glasgow.

Carol Fox, solicitor and director of Fox Cross Solicitors Limited, said: “I am absolutely delighted for all the claimants who have waited over six years for this result.

“They have worked hard as cleaners, catering assistants and carers and have watched in dismay as all other councils reached settlements.

“South Lanarkshire Council ploughed on defending the indefensible at taxpayers' expense.

“These women have not only been let down by their employer, but when they turned to their union for help they were told there was no case against the council.

“Unison owe a huge apology to women who have paid lifelong subscriptions but received no assistance or legal support to fight for equal pay.

“After six years of litigation, it would be shameful if the council proceed to an appeal to continue to deny their female employees equal pay.

“What has happened in South Lanarkshire is, in the eyes of our clients, truly shameful.

“Our 2400 clients hope that there will now be a full and comprehensive inquiry regarding the actions and decisions of councillors and trade union officials in South Lanarkshire over the last decade.

“We hope that the council will change their ways and will not appeal further.

“It is well past time to get round the table and resolve these cases.

“The council should now do the right thing and pay the women the compensation due over the past 12 years.”

A council spokeswoman said: “This is a complex judgement reflecting the fact that two and a half years’ worth of evidence was heard in this case.

“We will be taking time to analyse the content before considering our next course of action.

“Crucially, the tribunal did not find our job evaluation scheme to be sex discriminatory.”

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Like Men, Only Cheaper



The Times gave a good account yesterday of the ongoing equal pay scandal in South Lanarkshire Council - here's what the paper had to say:  

Town hall and unions ‘connived to underpay women’

A Labour-run local authority has been condemned for failing to implement an equal pay policy after an employment tribunal ruled that thousands of women were systematically underpaid.

The marathon case pitted South Lanarkshire Council against 2,400 people, mostly women, who were employed as cooks, cleaners and care assistants.

To make matters worse for the “old Labour” establishment in west central Scotland, many of the claimants insist that they were misinformed about their rights by local trade union officials, who are alleged to have been in cahoots with the council to cover up the injustice.

Some women are likely to have received up to £10,000 less than men in equivalent roles, with a number of cases dating back ten years. The financial consequences for South Lanarkshire are potentially disastrous, though a complex claims process could mean that individual settlements take years.

Senga O’Donnell, a retired care assistant said that she was delighted with yesterday’s ruling. She had not lodged a claim until 2008 because she had mistakenly thought that Unison, her trade union, had been acting on her behalf.

“Both Unison and South Lanarkshire let the women down,” said Ms O’Donnell, who worked for the council for 24 years. “That was very disappointing. They had made out that they were fair with the wage structure and the grading, but they weren’t. For years we were told, ‘you are not getting anything more, you are entitled to nothing’.”

Agnes Mills, a retired carer, said that, after eight years of argument, the ruling was “absolutely fantastic”. She added: “It always seemed like the union was on the side of the employer. I thought I would be six feet under before we got a result.”

One current council worker who did not want to be identified said that she was downgraded from catering manager to cook-in-charge in 2002 and watched askance as male employees were awarded better deals, with some even picking up bonuses if they worked 15 weeks without absence.

She said: “Janitors had been guaranteed paid overtime, over a lifetime. The women got nothing. The men in the union always seemed to be better off. The women never seemed to be asked to the meetings where these things were decided.”

The tribunal was told that in 1999, South Lanarkshire officials attended a “task force on equal pay” organised by CoSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. While the council acknowledged that women workers had valid equal pay claims, it decided to opt out of a national pay and grading scheme and devised its own Job Evaluation Scheme.

Critics of the scheme said that, as a result, male workers in relatively low-paid jobs, such as roadsweeping, could bring their wages up to £9 or £10 an hour by taking on extra responsibility or by training. By comparison, office cleaners — mostly women — were paid about £7.16 per hour, the lowest grade of pay on offer.

The tribunal found that the scheme did not comply with the Equality Act 2010 or its predecessor. While there were no reasonable grounds to suspect that pay evaluations discriminated on grounds of gender, the process was deeply flawed and unreliable.

“We argued from the beginning that the council’s motivation for going their own way was to protect unlawful and unjustified higher wages of male workers while telling their female workers that there was no equal pay problem,” said Carol Fox, the solicitor representing the claimants. “What has happened in South Lanarkshire is, in the eyes of our clients, truly shameful.

“Our 2,400 clients hope that there will now be a comprehensive inquiry into the decisions of councillors and trade union officials in South Lanarkshire over the last decade. We also hope that the council will change their ways and not appeal further. It is well past time to get round the table and resolve these cases.”

South Lanarkshire Council said that it would take time to evaluate a long and a complex judgment before considering its next course of action. “Crucially, the tribunal did not find our job evaluation scheme to be sex discriminatory,” said a spokesman.

All the more powerful - in my view - for giving a voice to some of the low paid women who are at the heart of this story.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Too Close For Comfort


Fox Cross Solicitors also released a press statement over yesterday's developments in South Lanarkshire Council - here's what they had to say.

MAJOR EQUAL PAY VICTORY FOR THOUSANDS OF LOW PAID WOMEN

Fox Cross Solicitors Limited and Action 4 Equality (Scotland) Limited are pleased to announce a major victory for thousands of claimants in a landmark equal pay case against South Lanarkshire Council. We represent over 2,400 claimants with ongoing equal pay claims against the only large Council in Scotland which has thus far refused to settle these cases.

The Employment Tribunal has today ruled that the Job Evaluation Scheme used by South Lanarkshire Council does not comply with the provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970 (now incorporated into the provisions of the Equality Act 2010).

The Tribunal heard that as early as 1999 the designer of the Council’s scheme attended a cross-Scotland COSLA Task Force on Equal Pay which acknowledged that women in local authorities had valid equal pay claims but decided at that time not to end the discrimination and settle the claims, then worth two year’s back pay.

The case will now proceed to consideration by the Tribunal of the Claimant’s equal pay claims. The Claimants hope that, instead of spending yet more taxpayers’ money, the Council will now recognise the need to settle these claims. The Council defended the longest running equal pay case in Scotland at a PHR (Pre-Hearing Review) between September 2009 and December 2011 for over 50 days at the Employment Tribunal in Glasgow.

The Tribunal decision is a very detailed and lengthy judgement which needs to be very carefully reviewed by the Council. We will produce a summary of this important decision for our claimants and the press very shortly.

Carol Fox, Solicitor and Director of Fox Cross Solicitors Limited stated:

“I am absolutely delighted for all the claimants who have waited over six years for this result. They have worked hard as Cleaners, Catering Assistants and Carers and have watched in dismay as all other Councils reached settlements. South Lanarkshire Council ploughed on defending the indefensible at taxpayers’ expense. These women have not only been let down by their employer but when they turned to their union for help they were told there was no case against the Council.

The first claim was lodged by Stefan Cross in November 2005. He took action to protect the legal position of thousands of women while Unison failed to act. The union published a newsletter in 2005 advising employees that there was no equal pay problem in South Lanarkshire. Instead they attacked Stefan Cross. Unison have failed to raise one tribunal claim. The cases proceeded at the tribunal over seven years demanding huge resources and hard work from Stefan Cross, Fox Cross Solicitors, expert Barristers and distinguished Equal Pay experts.

Only after five years’ work by others, in the middle of cross-examination of the local Unison rep, did the union do a complete U-turn. Unison's officials in South Lanarkshire supported the employer and failed to take action to protect the interests of thousands of low paid female workers. Unison owes a huge apology to women who have paid lifelong subscriptions but received no assistance or legal support to fight for equal pay. Unison are quick to criticise others. It is time that the union officials examined their own conscience and their shameful record in South Lanarkshire.

This judgement is a victory for the determination and resolve of these remarkable women who are the backbone of our Public Services. It is time they were shown the respect they deserve. After six years of litigation it would be shameful if the Council proceed to an appeal to continue to deny their female employees equal pay.

South Lanarkshire Council took a deliberate decision to opt out of the National Pay and Grading Scheme, implemented by the majority of Scottish Councils. It then invented a uniquely flawed in–house Job Evaluation Scheme. We have argued from the beginning that their motivation for going their own way was to protect unlawful and unjustified higher wages of male workers while telling their female workers that there was no equal pay problem. What has happened in South Lanarkshire is, in the eyes of our clients, truly shameful.

Our 2,400 clients hope that there will now be a full and comprehensive inquiry regarding the actions and decisions of Councillors and trade union officials in South Lanarkshire over the last decade. We hope that the Council will change their ways and will not appeal further. It is well past time to get round the table and resolve these cases.

Low paid employees in South Lanarkshire deserve better. The Council should now do the right thing and pay the women the compensation due over the past 12 years.”

Seems to me that relations between South Lanarkshire Council and the trade unions have been far too close - for the good of most ordinary union members - the great majority of whom are women, of course. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Mickey Mouse and Equal Pay


Here's what I said about South Lanarkshire Council's 'Mickey Mouse' job evaluation scheme - back on 16 January 2008.

Four years later these words have been vindicated - with the Employment Tribunal in Glasgow deciding that the South Lanarkshire Council scheme does not comply with the terms of the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

What a shocker for the leadership of this increasingly ridiculous council - but what a victory for the thousands of low paid women - who have been fighting for equal pay all these years.

I will have more to say in the days ahead - for the moment what I had to say in 2008 will suffice - although it's worth pointing out that Action 4 Equality Scotland now represents more than 2,400 clients in South Lanarkshire.

South Lanarkshire Council should hang its head in shame - if you ask me, its behaviour has been a total embarrassment and disgrace.
  

Mickey Mouse, South Lanarkshire and Job Evaluation

South Lanarkshire Council has asked Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross to explain the basis of our challenge to its Job Evaluation Scheme (JES).

We're delighted to do so. In fact, so delighted, we've decided to give them what they really deserve - both barrels.

So, here's what we've said on behalf of our 1500 South Lanarkshire clients.

1 The history of single status is that the pre-2003 pay arrangements were widely accepted as discriminatory - by both the employers and unions - so any scheme that simply reproduces the old pay differentials (between male and female groups) is itself discriminatory and unfair

2 The council failed to use a recognised and professionally approved scheme - instead they used a Mickey Mouse scheme dreamed up by a handful of senior councillors and council officials - a scheme that no one can now explain or defend.

3 The JES is completely subjective and does not measure the day-to-day demands of people's jobs - which is what's supposed to happen with a professionally approved scheme.

4 A variety of posts have been amalgamated into single job categories and given the same grade - even though the content and demands of these posts are very different.

5 The grading exercise was done by job families which are segregated along gender lines and so are tainted with sex bias - e.g. almost all Land Services employees are men and they're paid better (surprise, surprise) than the female groups.

6 The grading exercise was carried out by different people and on a different basis for each job family - so the scheme is not consistent or fair.

7 The grading exercise was carried out by line managers who were not independent or qualified to do such work - management lackeys in other words.

8 The council is concealing how all the jobs were assessed and scored - job profiles contain no information about Factor Headings, Factor Levels, Factor Weighting and individual Job Scores.

9 The underlying purpose of the exercise was really to maintain the status quo - i.e. the higher pay of the traditional male jobs - see post dated 14 November 2007.

10 Pay and grading were done together - so that past pay was taken into account - which is very, very naughty and against all JES rules.

11 Actual pay bears no relation to the score of a post - e.g. a Band 2 female post does not receive the same pay as a Band 2 male post. Why?

12 The JES process is not transparent, open and user friendly - as required. Key information is still being withheld to conceal the fact that many traditional male jobs continue to earn much more than their female colleagues.

13 The grading exercise was undertaken in 2003, but was not subject to an independent Equal Pay Audit until two years later - predictably the details of the independent audit have been kept secret as well. Wonder why?

14 Bonus payments in South Lanarkshire have not really disappeared - they've simply been consolidated into much higher salaries for the men.

Now all of this is very well know to the senior councillors and managers who negotiated South Lanarkshire's single status scheme in 2003 - along with Unison and GMB officials.

And while Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross want the facts to come out into the open - the council and the unions want to keep the workforce in the dark.

Who's kidding who?