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FM must intervene on equal pay or risk bankrupt councils

Friday, April 5, 2024

Looming equal pay claims threaten to bankrupt local authorities across Scotland without urgent government intervention, according to GMB Scotland.

We have warned ministers that claims totalling tens of millions of pounds will risk sinking local authorities without emergency action.

Strikes involving the union’s members working in home care across three Scots councils are underway in industrial action linked to equal pay.

Ahead of the walkouts, Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland secretary, wrote to the First Minister warning councils’ refusal to engage on claims risks financial catastrophe.

She is urging Humza Yousaf to support the creation of a new specialist body to decide on equal pay claims across the country and enforce awards because local authorities are refusing to face reality.

She said: “Scotland’s councils are approaching equal pay claims like the Titanic approaching the iceberg.

“Councillors have their heads in the sand and executives have their fingers in their ears but these equal pay claims will come, will be won and will need to be settled.

“It is understandable that our councils are refusing to acknowledge the reality because the reality is unthinkable and the scale of these claims unimaginable for local authorities already being forced to cut services.

“Women who have been underpaid for far too long will still win these claims, however, and, unless that process is properly managed now, the impact on our councils and the communities they serve could be disastrous.”

Care workers, mostly relatively low paid women, are striking in Falkirk, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire council areas after rejecting internal reviews of their pay grade, saying their role and responsibilities have increased dramatically since their jobs were last assessed.

They are among the women working across the public sector, who believe their role and responsibilities has been undervalued for decades compared to the work done by male colleagues.

A higher pay grade could be applied retrospectively meaning the workers claiming up to five years’ back pay with unions estimating the eventual cost, if replicated across other departments and other councils, running into tens, possibly hundreds, of millions.

In addition to the three councils where industrial action is already underway, GMB Scotland has ongoing equal pay campaigns in Dundee, Perth & Kinross, Angus, Fife and Moray with a process expected to lead to pay reviews in more than a dozen more.

Glasgow City Council is in an ongoing process of settling equal pay claims and has already sold council-owned buildings – including Glasgow City Chambers and Kelvingrove Art Gallery – to an arm’s length company to settle an initial £770 million bill. Meanwhile, Birmingham Council blamed equal pay claims for fuelling a financial crisis that led to its effective bankruptcy.

However, Gilmour warned against any suggestion that low-paid women are somehow responsible for the financial emergency threatening to engulf many local authorities.

She said: “Blaming equal pay claims instead of the systematic pay discrimination that has prevailed in our councils for generations is as dishonest as it is disgraceful.

“It is an attempt at emotional blackmail to persuade women workers that they are somehow being greedy and risking men’s jobs by simply asking for what they are due and have been due for years and years.

“The financial crisis facing Scotland’s local councils is not about women, it is about fairness and has been too long coming.”

She called on the first minister to support a UK-wide body staffed by equal pay specialists to identify and decide on pay discrimination cases and enforce awards.

She said: “Equal pay is not going away. It is incumbent on trade unions and politicians of all parties to learn the mistakes of the past so they are never repeated.”

Home care workers in Falkirk begin four days of strike action today after accusing council bosses of failing to properly recognise their work or ensure their pay grade reflects their responsibilities.

In recent years, the frontine staff say, they have been asked to support more people with complex needs, administering medication, increased administration and recording and liaising with other services like NHS Scotland and social work.

They are paid as little as £12.70 an hour but Falkirk Council rejected the union’s appeal against its refusal to grade their jobs higher despite low pay being blamed for the local authority struggling to recruit in home care.

Care staff in Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire will also strike for two days next week with the frontline staff from all three local authorities rallying in Glasgow on Wednesday.