Reading council faces equal pay challenge

17 Oct 16

Reading council – the only local authority in England and Wales never to settle an equal pay claim – will today face a court challenge from more than 60 women who say they are owed over £1.5m because they were paid less than their male colleagues.

The women – mostly care workers, cooks and administrators – are angry that seven years on from the council’s acceptance it had broken equal pay laws, none of them have received any backdated pay, according to Unison.

The trade union said that although the council has set aside £9m to settle its equal pay obligations, it has instead been using the cash to balance its budget.

Reading council – the only local authority in England and Wales never to settle an equal pay claim – will today face a court challenge from more than 60 women who say they are owed over £1.5m because they were paid less than their male colleagues.

Photo: Shutterstock

These claims arose because Reading council previously had a system of paying bonuses to staff in manual occupations, and they were predominantly men. The bonuses were not available to women doing jobs of equal value. Some of the women have claims dating back as far as 2003, which run up until 2011 when Reading council introduced a new pay and grading system. One of the women is owed as much as £47,000, with her remaining colleagues due an average of £10-15,000 each, according to the union.

At an employment tribunal in the town, Unison will call for the women to be paid the money they are owed.

“Reading council has known for many years it was guilty of treating its low-paid male and female employees very differently,” south east regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe said.

“But rather than cough up the cash owed when it had the chance, the local authority has instead chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on expensive lawyers trying to avoid settling the case.

“The council’s actions are nothing short of immoral. The stress of the last seven years has taken its toll upon many of the women, who will be hoping that today really is the beginning of the end.”

Ahead of the tribunal, a council statement said the proceedings relate to historic equal pay claims which are not unique to Reading and which many local authorities have gone through. 

“Where historic claims arise they are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and through the employment tribunal system. Considerable research is required going back a number of years in terms of historic salaries, allowances, changes in individual circumstances and, in particular, the exact day-to-day duties undertaken. There are around 180 claimants across 45 different roles. Job descriptions, and comparisons between different roles, then need to be agreed by all sides via the tribunal system.

“As a result cases are complex and can take some time to resolve. The council needs to make allowances for this, both in terms of legal fees and settlement payments. Timescales are also governed by the tribunal’s own timescales. This year some delays have also been as a result of responses from legal representatives of the claimants themselves.

“Progress is being made on settlement discussions. By the end of this year the council hopes to be in a position to begin to make payments in some individual cases. This is likely to continue through 2017. Where there are areas of dispute, partial payments will also be considered where appropriate and pending on-going discussions.”

The tribunal is expected to last all week.

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