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Date Mon 11 December 2006

Two unions challenge council on Equal Pay

UNISON and the GMB have stepped up the campaign for full pay equality in Scotland by issuing judicial review proceedings against Falkirk Council. The case has its first hearing today (Tuesday 12 December).

The unprecedented challenge strikes at the heart of local authority management by challenging the legality of the council's decision to sack staff and impose a discriminatory pay system.

After six years of talks on pay equality, Falkirk Council walked away from pay negotiations in the late summer. Rather than work to secure an agreement on pay equality, the council issued dismissal letters to staff and offered alternative employment in jobs that are due to start on Monday 18th December.

However, the unions are opposed to the new terms because they preserve pay inequality between women and men. Bizarrely, the council's plans actually introduce completely new forms of pay discrimination through payments that will be available only to male dominated groups.

Peter Hunter, UNISON's Legal Officer said: "It is staggering that after negotiating for six years, and paying out millions in compensation, Falkirk Council still believe they can pay women less than men for work of equal value. It is also scandalous that a public body in Scotland, funded by tax payers, has the nerve to impose discrimination on its staff by sacking, or threatening to sack, all the 4,000 workers affected by these changes. This pay system will ensure that there will be successful litigation against the council for years to come. Litigation and compensation that will be financed by the tax payers of Falkirk.”

Employees have the option of equal pay claims and unfair dismissal claims, but the unions have elected to pursue an unprecedented legal action of judicial review. Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 2003, all councils have a statutory duty to encourage pay equality and to comply with the Equal Pay Act. The unions argue that the decision to sack staff and impose this unlawful pay system is therefore illegal. This question will be addressed by the Court of Session in the first half of 2007.

"The judicial review route is very important for employees”, said Peter Hunter. "In our experience, ordinary equal pay claims can take up to 10 years to resolve by which time many workers are retired or even dead. Local authority workers have lived with pay inequality long enough and this court action will enable us to stop discrimination in its tracks where a council is acting in breach of duty. Given the mess and cost of pay discrimination, there is a very strong public interest in the success of this claim. For workers and tax payers it is vital that justice is done, that it is seen to be done, and that it is done promptly.”

The UNISON/GMB claim also includes a request for an interim order suspending the dismissals. Similar to an interim interdict, this order would prevent all dismissals. However, the judicial review will proceed in the new year regardless of whether the dismissals are prevented.


For Further Information Please Contact: Peter Hunter (Legal Officer) 07903 814 118 (m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0771 558 3729(m)