Equal pay case should compel councils to reach agreements, say unions

28 Apr 10
Councils must reach equal pay agreements if they are to avoid ‘needlessly huge costs’ for the taxpayer, unions have said
By Jaimie Kaffash

28 April 2010

Councils must reach equal pay agreements if they are to avoid ‘needlessly huge costs’ for the taxpayer, unions have said.

An employment tribunal this week ruled that more than 4,000 female employees at Birmingham City Council had the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues. The cost to the council, including the payouts and legal fees, could total £300m.

Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said the ruling should push councils to conclude equal pay agreements with the unions. ‘It is obviously a great victory but it should not have come to this,’ she told Public Finance.
‘The huge amounts of money that have been spent in litigation could have been spent on getting the pay system right and dealing with bonuses many years ago. Our message to those councils who prefer to go down the litigation route is to think again.’

GMB national secretary Brian Strutton added that the ruling sent a warning to other councils. Even ‘the largest [English] council with the biggest legal department was unable to stop the progress of equal pay’, he said.

‘There was a national agreement on equal pay in 1997 and here we are still taking court cases about it. Putting off the evil day is one thing, but it is costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money needlessly.’

A Local Government Association spokesman told PF that ‘councils had pioneered efforts to remove historic problems of pay differences’. He added that councils were ‘committed to negotiation and agreement’ but, in the process of implementing new structures, some people would lose out and it was their right to pursue tribunals.

Communities Secretary John Denham announced at the 2009 Labour Party conference that he would allow councils to capitalise to reach equal pay agreements.

Wakefield said this had helped to take the pressure off councils. But she added: ‘Ultimately, we think that the local government workforce should have had what the NHS workforce has, which is government funding for the single status process.’

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