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Equal Pay

What the union is doing

September 2005

In recent weeks, there has been much publicity about 'no win, no fee' lawyers taking equal pay claims. It is important to know what the union has been doing about equal pay and where we are at the moment.

As long ago as 1999, members were balloted on and agreed to a 'Single Status' agreement with Scottish councils. This agreement created a single pay structure and job evaluation exercises which would assess every job in local government and ensure that equal pay was achieved.

The problem of course is that Single Status has not been implemented. We have been arguing for fair pay across local government, but some employers have simply not wanted to know. The council (along with most others throughout Scotland) have failed to deliver on their part of the bargain which was an 'equality proof' job evaluation scheme.

So the union in Scotland has also been building up information on likely test tribunal cases which we are now ready to use on employers who won't talk to us. Indeed, we are now at a very advanced stage in taking cases. UNISON has hundreds lodged across the UK and has concluded agreements worth millions of pounds.

The problems we face as a union are different from those of a private enterprise seeking to make profits out of equal pay claims. These organisations only look to 'cherry pick' cases. We need to consider the whole workforce. It is fact that many equal pay court settlements in England have led to cuts in staff to pay for it. The only real way to equal pay is a negotiated collective agreement.

Some of the issues that confront us in this are as follows:-

  1. Equal pay claims do not solve the problem of low pay. Employers can address the problem by reducing the grades of comparator jobs. So long as pay is equal, it does not have to be good.

  2. The council's long delay in even attempting to implement the Job Evaluation part of Single Status. The council now wants us to consider the 'Greater London' scheme rather than the Scottish Joint Council scheme recommended in the agreement. As a result of an AGM decision this year we are mandated to investigate this and report back. At first sight, the Greater London scheme will have fewer extremes of 'winners and losers' but we do not yet have evidence of it being 'equality proof'.

  3. The delay in implementing Job Evaluation has led to many staff being underpaid for longer than they should have been. In most schemes there is some benefit for lower paid workers but the main beneficiaries tend not to be at that level. That needs to be dealt with in general pay claims.

  4. Currently in Edinburgh, due to a local agreement, if your job is downgraded as part of a review, you get protected salary until you voluntarily move job. This protection is a crucial issue in job evaluation where some jobs will be higher graded but some will be lower graded.

  5. We have also for some time been trying to negotiate nationally and locally for back pay and compensation for all staff affected by unequal pay so that there will be no need for them to go through lengthy (and sometimes uncertain) legal proceedings.

Our overall worry is that individual equal pay claims will not result in equal pay for all and may result in redundancy or cuts to pay for them. That is why a negotiated and collective settlement is essential rather than 'cherry picking' by a private outfit that stands to make lots of money out of the process rather than having any real commitment to resolving equal pay. If comparator groups are equally low paid, this company will of course not be interested.

However, because the council has dragged its feet, we have been forced in recent months to write out to selected groups (eg Home Care and Catering) to ask them to fill in forms to consider tribunal cases. We will take these if needed but the best resolution is an agreement with the council across the board with back pay and compensation.

I hope this explains that the union has been working hard on this issue for at least six years and that we are fighting for a resolution that will benefit all of our members suffering unequal pay, not just those who have a case that a private company may be able to make money out of. If that cannot be achieved, then we will lodge claims.






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