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Equal pay claims from low-paid women could cost council £20m

© Kim Cessford School learning and care assistant Angela Grimm in Dundee last week.
School learning and care assistant Angela Grimm in Dundee last week.

Equal pay claims from low-paid women could cost Dundee City Council £20 million as unions accuse the local authority of having a “sex discrimination problem”.

Thousands of women employed by the council and its arm’s length external organisations have lost out on thousands of pounds each in earnings because of an unsound pay agreement, it is claimed.

Women are outraged by a pay structure which gives bonuses to workers in predominantly male roles such as plumbers and electricians while ignoring mainly female roles in care and educational support.

Angela Grimm, 52, a council learning and care assistant, said: “Staff are absolutely furious. Everyone I work with is prepared to walk out, that’s how undervalued we feel.

“Electricians, plumbers, these kind of workers at the council get a bonus scheme. An apprentice electrician is coming out with something like £21,000 a year. That is double what we are earning. We do not have the opportunity to make bonuses.

“We work with the most vulnerable kids in Tayside. We have kids on oxygen, we work with kids where we can’t make one wrong move or their health will suffer. We are also dealing with kids with autism and meltdowns. We are not moaning, we know that comes with the job and the behaviours that can be brought about by autism.

“But we are being punched, kicked, knocked unconscious and taken to hospital doing our jobs and yet we are one of the lowest paid.”

Women have called for compensation for lost earnings as a result of the bonus system, ending allegedly discriminatory pay policies throughout the council and its external organisations, a thorough job re-evaluation process, and pay justice for women by raising standards not cutting pay or services.

Grimm, who works in the city’s Kingspark Primary School, said council chiefs knew the system was discriminatory as male-dominated jobs received higher bonuses and enhancements than those for female colleagues.

She added: “This unfair system of pay has been going on for years with this structural inequality.

“There was a scheme set up to deal with fuel poverty and it was means tested. We had to show our bank statements and 90% of us qualified for that payment. We are working full time for Dundee City Council so it shows how low paid we are. They know it has happened and they are trying to palm it off by say it wasn’t their fault and avoid paying out.

“It is hypocrisy – they pay lip service to equality and diversity while making sure women are paid less than men.”

In 2019, Glasgow City Council agreed to pay out at least £500m following a high-profile battle for equal pay.

(Pic: Kim Cessford)

Last year, more than 21,000 equal pay claims were reportedly outstanding across Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Figures published under Freedom of Information laws showed that despite major settlement deals in recent years, many were still unpaid with most of the claimants being women, according to trade unions.

Glasgow faced 18,179 claims. Fife Council had more than 1,200 claims, while Dundee, North Ayrshire, Edinburgh and East Ayrshire all have more than 200.

Peter Welsh, of the trade union, GMB Scotland, said the exact figure for the Dundee payout depended on a number of factors including the total number of workers who could be identified as having a claim but he was confident the bill would run into scores of millions of pounds.

He said: “There are more than 600 claims lodged at the employment tribunal in Dundee over the discrimination that needs to be challenged there. The council are really dragging their heels on this. You could be very easily looking at scores of millions of pounds in terms of liability.

“There is a time bar of five years that you can backdate it to but it is still a hefty chunk of money if they are found to have operated a discriminatory bonus scheme. But these kind of payments do not exist for people who work in care. We can’t be a land of fair work if sex discrimination is allowed to persist in our public services.”

Officials said it was enshrined in law that men and women must get equal pay for doing “equal work” including basic rate of pay, pensions, bonuses and benefits.

GMB Scotland organiser Helen Meldrum said the city had a “sex discrimination problem”, adding: “Working women are being cheated out of money. It’s clear the council has no intention of ending this discrimination or doesn’t know how, and that’s why we are lodging equal pay claims.”

Dundee City Council said: “A number of equal pay claims have been raised against Dundee City Council in the Employment Tribunal. These cases are at an early stage and it would not be appropriate for the council to comment further in the meantime.”