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Glasgow Women’s Strike: Schools and nurseries close as more than 8,000 take industrial action

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HUNDREDS of schools and nurseries are shut and home care services affected as Glasgow City Council workers stage a 48-hour strike – believed to be the biggest of its kind.

The industrial action on Tuesday and Wednesday, which involves more than 8,000 members of the GMB and Unison unions, comes in a dispute over equal pay.

Thousands of female workers are proceeding with claims against the council following a Court of Session ruling last year.

Glasgow City Council said the strike was unnecessary and it hopes to reach a settlement in the coming months and start paying out in the next financial year.

GMB Scotland organiser Rhea Wolfson said members will bring the city to a “standstill” to progress negotiations.

The Women’s Equality Party have also spoken out over their support of the strike.

Suzanne Martin, Leader of the Glasgow Branch of the Women’s Equality Party said: ‘This workforce, which is largely made up of women, has been let down by two administrations now. Labour and the SNP have shown their complete disregard for equality and for the women who keep our city moving day in and day out.”

“In a year when the scale of women’s inequality has been laid bare – from #MeToo and sexism in Police Scotland, to gender pay gap reporting that found eight in ten UK firms pay men more than women – it is extraordinary that Glasgow City Council has failed to redress this wrong.”
Unions also said they feared action could be taken against refuse and street cleaning workers if they refuse to cross picket lines.

Glasgow City Council said all early years establishments, additional support for learning (ASL) schools and mainstream primary schools will close on both days, though all mainstream secondary schools will remain open.

Home care services for around 6,000 people are affected by the industrial action.

The local authority said it had explored all options to avert the strike.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken told BBC Radio Scotland: “The strike will have a devastating impact and there’s no need for it.”

She added: “I don’t believe that the demands are strong enough to justify industrial action of this scale, I don’t blame the women or the claimants in any way whatsoever, I understand their frustration, they’ve waited a long time for justice but they’ve won their case.

“They won their case the day that the SNP was elected to lead Glasgow City Council and we have been working ever since then to deliver them justice.

“We are extremely close to it and I am confident that they will get the settlement that they are entitled to and we will start paying out in the next financial year.”

The local authority introduced its Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) and grading scheme in 2006 to tackle inequalities.

Some female workers say the way it is structured led to people in female-dominated roles are being paid up to £3 an hour less than people in male-dominated roles.

Some women are said to have been paid up to £4,000 a year less than male counterparts.

The council said the way union leaders have approached the strike has been “hugely disappointing”.

A spokesman said: “We believed we had an agreement on providing life and limb cover for our most vulnerable citizens – indeed, the unions told the public that cover would be in place.

“It won’t. There has been absolutely no meaningful effort from the unions to work with us and their membership to ensure that life and limb cover will be in place.”

Glasgow City Council sent letters to those affected informing them their care will be withdrawn for two days during the strike.

The GMB said unions have agreed to all council requests to support the life and limb cover plan, adding the offer from union members to work through the strike to support vulnerable home care users still stands.

Ms Wolfson said: “The council’s officers have been incapable of putting in place the most basic cover despite having three weeks to prepare and the offers we have made every single day to resolve the dispute.”

She added: “Our members work for some of the most vulnerable elderly and disabled people in our community and we would never do anything that could cause them harm.”

What is the strike about?

The workers are striking over a long-running equal pay dispute.

The council adopted the Workforce Pay and Benefit Review (WPBR), implementing its job evaluation-based pay and grading system in 2006 with the aim of ensuring men and women received equal pay for jobs of the same value.

However, some women claim they were paid £3 an hour less than men in similarly graded roles.

What action was taken before the strike?

In May 2017, the Court of Session ruled the WPBR discriminated against female workers.

The council decided it would not appeal the decision of the court and would, instead, commit to settling the outstanding equal pay claims and introduce a new system.

In the same month, the SNP became the biggest party on Glasgow City Council after decades of Labour control.

In January 2018, the council said it hoped to resolve the dispute through negotiation. But union members, angry at a lack of progress, said earlier this month they would strike.

How many workers are affected?

As many as 12,000 people are making equal pay claims, some of them dating back 12 years.
The biggest group are represented by the campaign group Action 4 Equality Scotland.

It is thought it could cost hundreds of millions of pounds to settle.

More than 8,000 members of the GMB and Unison unions are said to be taking part in the 48-hour industrial action.