Saturday, 30 June 2012
The trade unions in South Lanarkshire - especially Unison - continue to get a pasting in the local press for their craven behaviour over equal pay.
Which is richly deserved - in my opinion.
Here's an article from this week's Hamilton Advertiser which a kind reader brought to my attention - with the wry observation that the union seems to be on the side of the council employer - not the council workers.
But there's little wonder that Unison is on the defensive of course - because the union gave evidence in support of South Lanarkshire Council in the recent employment tribunal case - which concluded that the council's job evaluation scheme (JES) does not comply with equal pay legislation - and is therefore 'not fit to be relied upon'.
Now you would think this would give the unions some pause for thought - time for reflection even - because they've been cosying up to South Lanarkshire Council for years - instead of doing the right thing by their members.
Which is why - as in Glasgow City Council - the trade unions in South Lanarkshire have lost all credibility over equal pay - they've acted as little more than cheerleaders for the council and refused to look critically at the reasons for the big pay gap between male and female jobs.
The lack of transparency in South Lanarkshire's JES and its pay systems has been evident for years - but it's Action 4 Equality Scotland which has been challenging the council and asking all the awkward questions - not the trade unions.
Unison and Equal Pay Dispute
by Julie Gilbert (Hamilton Advertiser)
The union representing women fighting for equal pay at South Lanarkshire Council have defended their handling of the issue.
Unison came under criticism last week after the Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled the council’s job evaluation scheme did not comply with the Equal Pay Act.
Thousands of female council workers who claim they are being paid less than men for doing equal amounts of work will now be able to have their cases assessed by the tribunal and could potentially recieve six years of back pay.
Solicitor Carol Fox, who is representing 2400 of the women with equal pay disputes at the tribunal, said that Unison owed their members an apology for initially telling women they had no case against the council.
Fox Cross Solicitors, together with Action4Equality, have been fighting the council since 2005 but Unison did not join the battle until just over a year ago.
However, Unison’s Lanarkshire Branch Secretary Stephen Smillie said that when the council’s job evaluation scheme was first set up the union believed it did comply with the Equal Pay Act.
They did not want to go to tribunal at that point. They said a fair and compliant job evaluation would be a defence against any equal pay claim.
However, as issues arose regarding the scheme’s transparency, the union made the decision to join the tribunal and they insist they have always had their members’ interests at heart.
Mr Smillie said: “The job evaluation scheme was first introduced in the late 1990s. There’s been a whole number of developments and different cases since then.
“We felt after these cases were held that clarity was needed on the point of transparency and that’s when we joined the tribunal case which was being led by Fox Cross.
"There was no evidence that the scheme was discriminatory – if it was we wouldn’t have been involved in it.
“It’s on the point of transparency that it fails.”
The transparency argument centres on the point that every worker has the right to look at the salary scale and understand how they are paid and why, and that every worker has the right to know how comparable workers are paid and why.
If those being represented by Unison win an equal pay claim, then they will only get pay backdated to when Unison joined the tribunal, whereas those being represented by other solicitors will get back pay to when they joined the tribunal, in some cases as long as six years ago.
However, Mr Smillie points out that unlike a no win, no fee lawyer, Unison will not be deducting a fee from any settlement employees win.
He is also keen to point out that no-one with an equal pay dispute is guaranteed money at this stage.
He said: “It’s been described as a victory. No-one has got their money yet, no-one is going to get any money at this stage, and no-one has won an equal pay case.
“One of the concerns I have is publishing how much money will be paid out and saying people are going to get it before Christmas.
“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”