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Single 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 months ahead.

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 be addressed.

Another major problem is the fact that women do not get access to bonus schemes commonly offered to male manual workers.

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 down.

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 further disputes.

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.

Further Information

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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Further Information

Contacts list:

Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk

Carol Judge c.judge2@unison.co.uk

Peter Hunter p.hunter@unison.co.uk

@ the P&I Team 14 West Campbell St Glasgow G26RX Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141-221 8953