News & Opinion

News & Opinion from United Employment Lawyers. Breaking Barriers • Working Together • Delivering Excellence

Negotiating around pay inequality

When Glasgow City Council, one of Scotland’s
largest employers, voted to end more than a
decade of argument over equal pay for low-paid,
mainly female staff, it was bound to be
controversial.
In many ways, the council should be applauded
for finally trying to resolve this matter. It
was clearly stated in the SNP’s local government
manifesto for Glasgow that this was something
they wanted to sort out, once and for all.
Reports suggest such a resolution, which impacts
around 10,000 people, will cost around £500
million, which will have to come out of the
council’s existing budget, and certain to mean
other services will suffers. The council says it
wants to resolve this lingering issue through
negotiations rather than dragging it through the
courts and employment tribunals.
This is the fine line between what is just and
fair and the practicalities of daily life in a
world concerned about Brexit and where councils
and services are under the cosh. But this is why
we elect our politicians, to make these tough
decisions.
Then there is the thorny issue of the BBC. This
has been a great deal of debate since it was
revealed that prominent big-name male
journalists and presenters were paid
substantially more than women. The outcry on
this has certainly damaged the broadcaster’s
reputation for fairness and balance.
No-one can say this was all ‘rather unexpected’.
The law has actually been pretty consistent
about this over the last 50 years. Most
progressive organisations have been paying
equally for the same job for many years. The
whole issue of equal pay has been at the core of
trade union campaigning since the Trade Unions
Congress in 1965 and it was set in stone by the
Labour Party’s election manifesto. It was the
Equal Pay Act 1970 which prohibited any less
favourable treatment between men and women in
terms of pay and conditions.  This was
significant for Britain because its passing also
helped pave the way to the UK’s membership of
the European Community, with the Treaty of Rome
stating each member state shall ensure that the
principle of equal pay for male and female
workers for equal work or work of equal value is
applied. This was superseded by the Equality Act
2010.
So why have so many public sector organisations
been dragging their feet? In truth, it has to be
seen that funding this gap has been a thorny
issue. But Glasgow has now said it wants this to
end. The city has been at the forefront on the
equal pay battle for a long time, going back to
Strathclyde Regional Council v Wallace in 1998,
and more recently Rainey v Greater Glasgow
Health Board all playing their part in the
evolution of case law on this sensitive matter.
We then entered an era of job evaluations to
consider whether a school cleaner’s job was
equal in status to a refuse collectors’ tasks.
It became a complex issue of trying to compare
apples and pears, but now there is nowhere that
employers can legitimately hide. The trade
unions can claims credit for their long
campaigning and this success is likely to fuel a
membership.
As an employment lawyer, businesses need to pay
heed to what is happening. Even if there is no
job evaluation there is still the potential for
an equal value claim. And there is the potential
of more no win, no fee claims.
The recent abolition of Employment Tribunal fees
makes it far easier for those with a grievance
to seek some resolution through the legal
system. As the Glasgow decision shows, this
remains a ticking time bomb for many
enterprises. It could be very costly but it is a
matter of fairness under the law.
Alan Strain is head of Davidson Chalmers’
employment team.