Status & Equal Pay in Local Government MSP Briefing No 124
This briefing offers a summary of local government
employers plan to deliver equal pay between women and men. The
briefing also explains recent protest action by staff at Moray
Council and Aberdeen City Council and sets out the reasons why
UNISON is concerned at the prospect of further disputes in the
As with other employers, local government employers
have struggled to meet their binding legal obligation to introduce
equal pay despite the fact that the relevant law has been in place
for over 30 years. In 1999, along with the GMB and T&G unions,
UNISON signed the single status agreement with Local Government
employers. This agreement was designed to deliver modernised employment
relations, across all occupations, building on verifiable pay
equality as a cornerstone of the relationship between councils
and their employees. The single status agreement was due for implementation
in April 2002. The trade unions recognise that, both financially
and logistically, this was a major undertaking for the employers
and the unions have been reasonable and patient in dealing with
delays in the intervening period.
However, recent events give us cause for concern,
particularly those in Aberdeen. While we are making slow but steady
progress in many areas, we are concerned that some employers may
seek to fund equal pay by imposing unacceptable pay cuts. Likewise,
while we have a national commitment to change through collective
agreement, we are concerned that some employers may respond to
the challenge of equal pay with mass dismissals followed by re-engagement
on reduced pay and conditions. UNISON will of course respond robustly
to any such threat.
Local government employers have not been granted
the financial resources or flexibility to modernise employment
in a manner comparable with secondary or higher education, health
and several other valued public services. The time has come for
the Scottish Executive to play an active role in the delivery
of a solution that ensures equality and fairness within modernised
local government services.
Job Evaluation & Equal Pay
Although the modernising effect of single status
goes far wider than equal pay, it is the issue of equal pay which
accounts for the problems faced by employers and employees.
Equal pay between women and men is a binding legal
obligation. It applies to salaries and to additional benefits
such as bonuses or holidays.
Where an employee can show a pay inequality with
someone of the opposite gender then they will be compensated for
up to five years. The comparison must be made between people in
similar jobs or jobs of equal value.
There are many sources of pay inequality within
local government. For example many jobs traditionally dominated
by women are undervalued and underpaid. MSPs will remember the
long running Nursery Nurses dispute. That dispute was about the
historic undervaluing of women's work. It was the type of dispute
the single status agreement was designed to avoid.
But that is not an isolated case. UNISON has many
members among classroom assistants, homecarers, cooks, cleaners
and clerical workers who have historic pay problems that must
Another major problem is the fact that women do
not get access to bonus schemes commonly offered to male manual
Employers tend to use Job Evaluation schemes to
ensure equal pay between women and men. Once jobs are evaluated,
employers and trade unions use that data to negotiate around pay
and grading models that offer women and men equal rewards.
What tends to happen is that pay freezes or red-circling
are used to hold back the pay of one group while those previously
undervalued and underpaid catch up. Nowhere in the Equal Pay Act
does it say an employer can sack a man to create equal pay with
a woman. The equal pay Act is based on levelling up, not levelling
No agency has accurately projected the cost of equal
pay in Scottish Local Government but the liability is several
hundred million pounds.
Workers Facing Pay Cuts
Rather than meet their equal pay obligations and
raise the pay of women to match that of men, UNISON fears that
some employers may be tempted to sack all staff and offer re-engagement
on lower salaries and poorer terms and conditions. Although some
employees always lose out under job evaluation, widespread substantial
pay cuts are simply unacceptable and will inevitably result in
What is also unacceptable is the absence of any
meaningful dialogue in many parts of the country. UNISON has a
duty to its members to check any proposed grading system to make
sure it is based on equal pay for work of equal value. In order
to do that, UNISON needs to know the data from the job evaluation
exercise if we are to negotiate over the implementation of equal
pay. Without data access, new terms and conditions cannot be adopted.
Having signed an agreement to give the unions this data in 1999
many employers are now refusing to co-operate. UNISON are being
forced to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner, all
of which brings further delay.
Role for the Scottish Executive
All the trade unions are agreed – the time has come
for the Scottish Executive to act. It is no longer an option for
the Executive to hide behind the statement that this is a private
matter between council employers and employees. The Scottish Executive
rightly supported pay modernisation in health and education. With
80% of local government funding coming from the Executive, councils
also need support.
This is also a matter of Scottish public policy.
Are public services to be free from discrimination or not? In
addition to passing legislation to enable individual claims of
equal pay, there are other obligations on members states under
EU law. For example, under Article 4 of the Equal Pay Directive
member states must take the necessary measures to ensure that
"provisions appearing in collective agreements, wage scales,
wage agreements or individual contracts of employment which are
contrary to the principle of equal pay shall be, or may be declared,
null and void or may be amended." Employers in Scottish Health
and local government are accountable to the Scottish Parliament
and, without changing Westminster legislation on equal pay, the
Parliament and the Executive should be assisting local government
employers in their efforts to tackle inequality.
Although concerned at the approach of some employers
on this issue, UNISON has considerable sympathy for those councils
who look at the role of the Executive in health, secondary teaching,
universities, SEPA and other areas and ask why no assistance is
available from the Scottish Executive, financial or otherwise.
The trade unions support the employers call for the position of
the Scottish Executive to be reversed.
This briefing paper is intended to provide MSPs
with a short overview of the position around equal pay and single
status in local government. Similar challenges face other public
bodies in Scotland.
For further details visit our web site: www.unison-scotland.org.uk.
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