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Court victory for thousands of women in Glasgow equal pay battle

Lawyers are warning employers to take care with how they implement equal pay orders, after a Scottish court found in favour of thousands of women in a long-running equal pay row.

The Inner House of the Court of Session decided earlier this week that policies put in place by Glasgow City Council to soften the blow of a job evaluation scheme – which was designed to make a number of different roles comparable to one another following a round of equal pay awards – discriminated against women.

The Council implemented a pay protection system which effectively safeguarded bonuses for so-called ‘red-circled’ staff, typically men, who would see their pay fall because of the changes, for a three-year period. This had the effect of keeping men’s overall remuneration packages higher than women performing equivalent roles.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decided the protections were discriminatory last March. The Council appealed but the Court of Session upheld the EAT’s ruling.

Unison, one of the unions which brought the claim to court, said the case could affect as many as 6,000 female workers, while some of the claims dated back as far as 2006.

“The way Glasgow rates and pays workers has been the source of conflict and division for ten years,” said Mike Kirby, Unison’s Scottish secretary. “These women have already waited long enough to receive the pay they have worked hard for and deserve.”

GMB Scotland also helped bring the case to court. Its secretary, Gary Smith, added: “ Times have been tough for these women who have had to endure this discrimination against a decade of real terms wage cuts across Scottish local government as a result of stifling austerity.

“The vast majority of them are our carers, caterers and cleaners, employed on the bottom rungs of the local government pay spine yet making some of the biggest contributions to the running of our local services.”

In light of the ruling, lawyers are urging HR departments to take extra care when designing payment protection offers, particularly as equal pay cases brought by private sector employees pick up pace.

“The important thing for HR professionals to bear in mind when implementing job evaluation and pay protection arrangements...is that careful and detailed consideration should be given to whom the pay protection scheme should apply,” said Shirley Hall, employment partner and equal pay/gender pay specialist at law firm Eversheds Sutherland.

Hall added: “In the Glasgow City Council case, the Council had focused their attentions on why the red circled employees should benefit from pay protection and had not considered why the [other] employees should not be included other than to state that the cost of such extension of the scheme would be ‘enormous’.  Where employers are exploring objective justification and capturing their rationale in this respect, it is important that they address the actual costing of such inclusion and any other implications of the same.”

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “This is a complex legal ruling. However, it is now clear that the award of pay protection was done in a way which discriminated against some of our female workers at that time. The right thing to do now is for the council to have open discussions with those workers and their representatives about how we give effect to this ruling.”

Added: 15-06-2017
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