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Council bosses accused of betraying women in legal fight over equal pay

© Alan Richardson Ring. Image: Alan Richardson
Yvonne Ring. Image: Alan Richardson

Council bosses in Scotland have been accused of betraying low-paid women by forcing them into a legal battle to secure equal pay.

A landmark fight could see local authorities across the UK pay out billions of pounds with more than 3,000 claims already being brought against councils, including Glasgow, Dundee and Fife.

Glasgow City Council was forced to sell assets such as the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Galleries to fund a £770 million compensation payment after years of wrangling.

GMB Scotland says authorities across the country are delaying settling hundreds of equal pay claims but only risk adding millions of pounds to the final cost to taxpayers.

Union rails against ‘disregard for workers’

The union last week wrote to the leader of Dundee City Council claiming his repeated refusal to meet officials or workers to discuss the claims exposes a disregard for some of the local authority’s most important staff.

John Alexander has been urged to intervene, with women currently forced to go through a lengthy tribunal process to claim the cash.

However, Alexander says the process is independent of councillors so he has no direct control over how the claims are handled.

He said no information has yet been passed to council officers on the final number of claims or the total amount of money being sought.

GMB Scotland members fighting for equal in Dundee. Image: DC Thomson

Claims have already been settled by some local authorities after mostly women workers were denied regular bonuses paid to male colleagues on the same pay grade.

Cara Stevenson, who leads GMB Scotland’s women’s campaign unit, said unfair pay has been endemic across Scotland’s councils, including Dundee, and that the inequality must be urgently recognised and ended.

She said: “Far from avoiding the mistakes of other Scottish local authorities who have tried to contest equal pay claims and lost, Dundee City Council and others seem determined to repeat them.

“Our members, mostly women and among the council’s lowest paid workers, are the victims of pay discrimination over many, many years and are being forced into lengthy legal action to secure the money owed them.

“This is their money and local authorities should give them it as quickly as possible.

Dundee City Council. Image: DC Thomson

“Dragging their feet, crossing their fingers and hoping it will all go away is not a strategy, it is wishful thinking.

“Dundee is far from the only council which has saved millions of pounds over the years which should have been paid to our members.

“That money is owed and will need to be paid.”

Alexander insisted there is no reluctance to meet and noted GMB Scotland cancelled a scheduled meeting with senior council officers last month.

Councillor John Alexander. Image: DC Thomson

He said: “I have no direct control of that process, no matter how much I or any other organisation would wish me to.

“As things stand, I’m not aware of any information being provided by GMB on the claims, in terms of numbers or value.

“That, of course, is part of the process and I look forward to it concluding so we can move things forward into a positive space.

“I am clear that any wrongs identified through this independent process should be addressed and that we cannot repeat the mistakes of Glasgow Labour.

“The SNP in Dundee will always stand on the side of fairness and equality.”

Rising costs for multiple councils

GMB Scotland has equal pay claims against three other councils – West Dunbartonshire, Fife, and Argyll & Bute – but is in negotiation with 14 other Scots authorities on related issues, such as job evaluation.

Scottish money. Image: Shutterstock

The rising costs as councils delay talks and contest the claims come as local authorities are already struggling to balance the books.

Dundee City Council said a number of claims have been brought but it would be inappropriate for it to comment further at this stage.


Yvonne’s Story: Retired care worker insists council must face up to responsibilities

Women calling for pay justice in Dundee have accused the city council of deliberately delaying negotiations.

Yvonne Ring, a care worker with the council for 31 years, is among the claimants despite retiring in 2020.

Her claim was lodged in 2019 – meaning five years of back pay based on bonuses given to other workers on the same pay grade.

Now 61, she said Dundee City Council should face up to its responsibilities and stop delaying the inevitable settlement of the equal pay claims.

“I saw the women in Glasgow winning their pay claim and knew the same thing had been happening in Dundee.

“If I knew it, the council knew it but it is still sticking its head in the sand. The councillors and officials are just trying to postpone the inevitable.

“They are delaying and delaying in the hope that they won’t need to deal with this but they need to stop tying these claims in legal red tape and start doing the right thing.
“There is a complete lack of respect and a failure of leadership.”

Yvonne Ring. Image: Alan Richardson

Ring, who worked with people with learning disabilities and home care during her council career, said she retired because of increasing work-related stress when changes to the role of care workers were driven through without discussion.

She said: “The people in charge had no idea of what our work involved and how much more difficult it was becoming to do the job we loved properly.

“I tried to tell managers of the impact on our clients and was told that ‘I cared too much.’ Well, that was my job.

“It is the same now with equal pay. The council knows what should be done and knows it will have to deal with it at some point but would rather kick it down the road and hope it will become someone else’s problem.

“They will be retiring with their big pensions while this is dragged through the courts and workers go without money they should have been paid years ago.”