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Date: Wed 26 June 2013

UNISON wins historic equal pay case worth millions of pounds for members

Nearly two thousand women members of UNISON are celebrating a historic equal pay victory today.

They have finally demolished the long-running defence by Scottish councils of paying men discriminatory bonuses that are denied to women.

The UNISON Scotland members can expect to share in an estimated nearly £12 million in compensation after the UK Supreme Court today handed down judgment in their favour in the seven-year case of North & Others v Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Having conceded that council bonuses were discriminatory, more than 20 Scottish councils joined Dumfries in arguing that women should only get equal pay compensation if they worked at the same location as their male comparators.

UNISON had appealed after the Court of Session said the 251 classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses in Dumfries were not able to compare themselves with groundsmen, refuse collectors and drivers and leisure attendants who received bonuses, but were based at depots, not in the women’s schools.

Today’s judgment overturns that decision, saying that UK equal pay law which allows a woman to compare herself with a man “in the same employment” does apply, even though the women worked at different ‘establishments’.

Crucially, the decision also opens the way for thousands of workers in arms length companies to compare pay rates between different employers if the council has the overriding ability to control how these subsidiaries operate.

Dave Prentis UNISON General Secretary, said: “I am delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of our women members. It is a shame, though, that they have had to go through this process and endure a seven-year wait, just to get equal pay.

“Dumfries and Galloway Council should take immediate steps to correct their pay and I urge other councils to follow suit. We have nearly 2,000 cases on hold, waiting for this judgment.

“Employers should be in no doubt that this union will continue to pursue cases until all women are treated equally. There are far too many who are still discriminated against and far too many employers who are using every single legal argument and loophole to dodge their obligations under equal pay law.”

Dumfries support for learning assistant Elaine North, one of the 251 appellants, said: “This has been a very long fight but we knew all along that we should be able to compare our work with the men, who sometimes did work in schools, but were not based there like us.

“We have won what is rightfully ours and 251 women employed by Dumfries & Galloway Council will be celebrating tonight. UNISON has been fantastic and we now hope the women employed by other councils who have been waiting for this decision can proceed with their cases.”

UNISON Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby said: “This is a landmark case in equal pay across the UK. UNISON’s determination to fight for our members has successfully defended the intentions of the Equal Pay Act. Losing this would have been a serious setback for the Act itself.

“It is a disgrace that it is taking so long for women to get equal pay with men and that councils have fought to defend discriminatory practice in this way.

“More than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, and after 30 years of equal value claims and 20 years after Scottish local authorities and trade unions reached agreement on implementing equal pay, there is finally no hiding place.

“The unions, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have been telling council leaders to get this sorted out.

“We are proud that it was UNISON alone who got the final answer from the Supreme Court. It is time for councils to stump up and give our members what is due to them.”


Notes to editors:

1. UNISON is Scotland’s largest trade union representing 160,000 members.

2. UNISON is also one of the UK’s largest trade unions, with more than 1.3 million members. We represent public service workers employed in both the public and private sectors.

3. A background note on today’s case is attached to this email, as well as a list of the Scottish councils with live claims, detailing how many we have at each.

4. This was a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court and was delivered by Lady Hale, the only female SC Justice. Lady Hale is an English (ie not Scottish) Justice, a departure from convention. This signifies the importance of the case well beyond Dumfries & Galloway.