Pensions and equal pay dominate
Another year flies past and it is time to write the Annual
Report. 12 months of diverse work involving being party to negotiating
teams, staffing committees, attending Scottish and National
conferences and seminars on Equality issues.
A year in which I returned to fulltime working which meant
I did not have the spare time to further develop policies due
to staffing strains throughout the service but, with the help
of others, the work still got done. There has been a greater
involvement for myself in service condition cases which were
of an equality nature.
For reasons of confidentiality I cannot go into the detail
of individual cases. Suffice to say, there is no sign of any
potential reduction in that particular workload. There have
been four key areas of corporate working in 2005.
In past Annual Reports I have emphasised the inequalities in
the Local Government Pension Scheme which directly favoured
those who were in a married relationship. Some progress has
been made in this area with the introduction of the Civil Partnership
legislation. This has allowed pension benefits to be provided
for those in a same-gender relationship but it still leaves
those who are in a nonmarried heterosexual relationship in a
situation where they have lesser benefits than work colleagues.
Union policy is clearly in favour of equal access for all contributors
to the Pension Scheme and that must be pursued in conjunction
with our well-publicised campaign against government pension
proposals which will be detrimental to us all (eg removal of
rule of 85 and the changes in the pension provisions).
This branch was influential in the formulation of the union's
pensions policies and I would assure you in the coming months
I and my fellow branch officers will ensure we retain a lead
role and will, at all times, keep the membership up to date
on this important issue.
Our Self Organised Groups have been active locally and at
a Scottish level. In particular, our Branch Disabled Members
Group (in conjunction with Health and Safety Representatives)
have taken up many issues on behalf of individuals as well as
the collective membership. These have ranged from access problems
and application of the Disability Discrimination Act to work
adaptations. I am currently pursuing two issues on behalf of
Firstly, in line with national policy, we are seeking a local
agreement on Disability Leave which would ensure absences directly
relating to a stated disability are not held against a member
when sickness absences come under scrutiny.
Secondly, we are trying to get the council to accept they have
responsibilities to provide signers for those with hearing impairments,
whether they be members of staff or users of council services.
We view this as a matter of giving staff training opportunities
rather than using external sources for direct provision. Given
the increased responsibilities placed on employers by the further
refinement of the Disability Discrimination Act it will be interesting
to see how the council approach these issues.
Our Black Members Group have been active in developing issues
at a Scottish level which have then been the subject of discussions
with the Scottish Executive. As a group they have met regularly
and have provided reports to the Branch Committee.
Our efforts to set up a Women's Self Organised Group proved
unsuccessful but I have been approached regarding the possibility
of establishing a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender Self
Organised Group and we will follow up on this initiative after
The branch has been represented at all UNISON's self organised
conferences with appropriate report back to the Branch Committee.
The most publicised issue in the past months has been the campaign
to eradicate the pay gap between women and men. The detail of
this important matter will be dealt with by other branch officers.
Suffice it to say Equal Pay is not a new issue.
The union has always pursued cases of comparability when approached
by members. The difference on this occasion is the scale of
the exercise with nearly 2000 cases being taken on.
The disappointing aspect for me is the fact some members appear
to think they will have a better chance of success by using
private lawyers. The effects of this are twofold. The member
will have to pay substantial costs to the private lawyer and
they will be diluting the union strength by dividing the membership.
Equal Pay is a complex area and resolution will not be reached
tomorrow. Please be patient and I am sure we will be successful
in achieving our Equal Pay targets.
This has been a major area of activity within the branch and,
as Branch Equalities Officer, I have been an active member of
the union negotiating team. That involvement will undoubtedly
increase in the following months and may mean other aspects
of the Equalities remit will be put on hold.
It is essential the Job Evaluation exercise is a success if
we are to remove the inherent inequalities which prevail in
our current grading and evaluation processes.
2005 has been a busy year with my main regret being the lack
of Equalities meetings. This was caused by factors such as inquorate
meetings, other union priorities and time off problems. It is
to be hoped we can do better in 2006.
2006 will undoubtedly be a busy year on the Equalities front
with new legislation such as the Equalities Bill coming through
the system, with the need to monitor the application of the
new Job Evaluation processes to ensure they achieve the objective
of eradicating inequalities in pay and grading systems and working
with the Service Conditions Team and Health & Safety representatives
on the imminent new council accommodation.
I have been Equalities Officer since the inception of the branch
10 years ago and it is a role I have enjoyed. I would like to
think I have always tried to make a positive contribution throughout
that period, sometimes with success - sometimes with failure
but always with commitment.
It is appropriate I thank all those who have helped me and
worked with me over the past decade with particular thanks going
to Branch Secretaries (past and present) and to the always accommodating