Friday, 24 January 2014

Scotland and Equal Pay


Here's another post about the politics of equal pay which I've decided to re-publish in light of the speech by Labour's Margaret Curran on Women and Independence.

If you ask me, Margaret Curran's comments are ill-informed and ludicrous because the main reason that the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was not implemented properly - was down to the role of the big Labour councils which controlled CoSLA at the time and the failure of the Labour supporting trade unions to stand up for the interests of low paid women workers.

Money was never the stumbling block because the Labour-led Scottish Government along with CoSLA (the umbrella body for local councils) managed to find £800 million to fund the McCrone pay deal which in the year 2000 handed an eye-watering 23.5% pay increase to another group of council employees - Scottish school teachers.  

Now this £800 million was built into the Scottish Government's base budget which means that it costs the country and extra £800 million every year to pay teachers a good salary - at the level determined by the historic McCrone Agreement. 

But the McCrone Agreement somehow leapfrogged and took precedence over the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which, at the time, was estimated to be £400 to £500 million a year.

Interestingly, the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have benefited well over 90,000 very low paid council workers, most of them women, while the McCrone Agreement gave an unprecedented pay increase to a smaller group of around 70,000 teachers.  

So, why was the money found for teachers and not other employees much further down the pay ladder?   

I don't know, but the answer to that question lies with the Scottish Government, the council  employers and the trade unions - all three organisations being dominated by the political priorities of Labour Party.  

Politics of Equal Pay (20 August 2013)

I came across this article on equal pay which I missed for some reason - when it was published in The Herald back in January 2013.

Now the writer involved - Ruth Wishart - is an experienced journalist, so I was both surprised and disappointed that the piece contained so many inaccuracies and mistakes.

For a start to use the words 'pay anomalies' to describe what was going in Glasgow  back in 2005 is an abuse of the English language - as if there were just a few wrinkles here and there.

Because what was taking place in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - right under the noses of the trade unions and seasoned journalists like Ruth Wishart - was widespread pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women.

Women in caring, catering, cleaning clerical and classroom assistant jobs - who were routinely being paid thousands of pounds a year less than relatively unskilled male jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

When Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) arrived on the scene in 2005, things began to change because we  explained to women workers exactly what was going on - and the fact that council employers and trade unions in Scotland had promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination as far back as 1999.

And this was during a 10 year period between 1997 and 2007 - when the budgets of councils in Scotland actually doubled in size, of course. 

But the employers and the unions failed to keep their promises which is why so many of these cases ended up in the Employment Tribunals - as union members voted with their feet and decided to pursue their equal pay claims with A4ES.

So much so that A4ES clients outnumber the trade union backed cases by a ratio of 10 to 1 - not 4 to 1 as Ruth Wishart wrongly suggests - and A4ES charges a its clients a success fee of 10% which Ruth would also know if she had bothered to check her facts.

Another glaring error is Ruth's reference to a Scottish Joint Council Job Evaluation scheme which she says was still under negotiation - but the truth is that a nationally approved Job Evaluation scheme specifically developed for Scottish councils had been available for use since 1999 - and this scheme was supported by the trade unions.

So Glasgow's decision to use a different scheme had nothing to do with choosing a quicker option - quite the opposite in fact.       
        
I find this all the more amazing because Ruth is (or was until recently ) a member of the Leveson Expert Group - whose advice on how to implement the Leveson Report in Scotland was quickly binned by the Scottish Government.

Yet the original Leveson Report was concerned with journalistic standards in the press and media - such as the importance of behaving with integrity and getting your facts right even when writing an opinion piece.

For example, Ruth's comment that "The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing" is plainly wrong - because the unions charged their low paid women members millions of pounds in contributions (membership fees) over this period - yet let them down miserably when it came to sweeping away years of pay discrimination.   

I was genuinely taken aback to such an ill-informed and unbalanced piece, so I decided to write to Ruth Wishart recently and invite her to meet with Mark Irvine and Carol Fox - to set the record straight.

Sad to say that offer wasn't taken up, but there is still an open invitation for any journalist who - like Ruth - appears to be struggling to grasp the basic rights and wrongs of equal pay.   

No easy answers in the struggle for equal pay

By Ruth Wishart (22 January 2013)

On one level it sounds so simple.

People should get the same pay for work of similar value regardless of gender. The Treaty of Rome said so way back in 1957. The UK law enshrined it when the Equal Pay Act came fully into force in 1975. What could go wrong?

Pretty well every thing as it happens. From dodgy employers in the early days who thought it smart practice to promote every single bloke on the payroll, to mass re-writing of job descriptions, to assembly lines being re-jigged to make them single sex.

And even when the rogues were rounded up, the earnings gap stubbornly persisted. Still does. But now all these years of underpayment have come back to bite cash-strapped local authorities who, not exactly obstructed by male-dominated unions, continued to preside over arrangements which turned out to be institutionally discriminatory.

A landmark judgment at the end of last year found Birmingham City Council on the wrong end of a court case brought by more than 170 women claiming back pay over six years. It is likely to open the floodgates for hundreds, if not thousands more.

Meanwhile, next month sees Glasgow City Council at a second session of an employment tribunal – there's a third scheduled for May – defending the arrangements it has come to after a process which began way back in 2005. A process which has already cost it over £50 million in compensation packages to female employees.

But this is not a straightforward tale of winners and losers, nor for that matter heroes and villains. When Glasgow City Council did its job evaluation exercise seven years ago there was no shortage of pay anomalies tumbling out of the woodwork.

As was the case with other councils, pay rates had grown up which made the casual assumption that outdoor dirty jobs like refuse collection and grave digging were intrinsically worth more than indoor manual work like cooking and cleaning. No prizes for guessing which of these categories employed more men than women and vice versa.

On top of that was an extraordinary bonus culture which widened the pay gap quite dramatically. As one executive explained "it seems that in some areas bonuses were being paid for turning up to work". And a lack of transparency around who got paid what and why meant that many of the disadvantaged women had no notion just how poorly paid they were by comparison with similar or poorer male skill levels.

The workforce pay and benefit review was designed to examine and eradicate these anomalies. Glasgow decided not to use the Scottish Joint Council Scheme still under negotiation, but used the Greater London Provincial Model on the grounds it would be a faster option than re-inventing the wheel. This entailed putting diverse jobs into 13 "job families" depending on the working context and skills.

The exercise meant higher pay for almost 25,000 employees, but loss of earnings for just under 4000. Under the deal anyone losing more than £500 would be offered skills development and there would be pay protection for three years.

The unions had several complaints about this, suggesting – among other complaints – that employees having to sign on the dotted line before being compensated for previous inequities was a form of blackmail.

But their cages were also being rattled by a new breed of specialist lawyers who saw the fight for equal pay as a lucrative niche market.

Their pitch was that on a no-win-no-fee basis they could get the women a better deal than union reps who, they suggested, had been asleep on the job in order to protect the incomes of their male membership.

Since the lawyers' cut of a successful action involved anything from 10% to 25% of the women's compensation packages, it seems somewhat disingenuous to suppose the main motive was a lofty crusade against injustice and discrimination. The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing.

In the event, four times as many Glasgow employees plumped for a private law firm than for Unison, though not the least of the ironies in this saga is that many of the lawyers involved had previously worked for Unison.

But, as I said, this is not a simple tale. Righting previous wrongs is important. Equal pay for work of equal value is essential. Yet all of this unfolds against a backdrop of budget cuts inevitably resulting in job losses.

It's not so much being careful what we wish for, more a dispiriting calculation on benefits versus costs.