Door closed on equal pay deals
Anger as 3000 workers lose out
Almost 3000 female council workers paid less than their male colleagues have lost out forever on claiming thousands of pounds.
West Dunbartonshire Council took the decision to deny workers, over a third of them in the lowest-paid positions, the chance to claw back the money despite revelations that scores of workers were not even aware they could claim.
This included all of the catering staff at Dumbarton’s biggest high school, Our Lady and St Patrick’s, and every learning assistant at one primary school.
At a crunch meeting last week the SNP administration wanted to discuss the issue in private, initially banning the Lennox Herald and other press as well as members of the public, including those personally affected.
But under pressure from opposition Labour councillors they agreed to take the decision as part of the public meeting.
West Dunbartonshire Community Party councillor Jim Bollan slammed the findings of the report presented to members, which showed that around 2865 employees across all grades could have lodged a claim before a time bar ran out in March this year.
The meeting heard only 600 claimed within the time frame and 393 were successful in their appeals.
Councillors voted in favour of taking no further action, closing the door forever on those who did not claim or were unaware of the inequality.
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie branded the action a “betrayal of the lowest-paid female staff in West Dunbartonshire”.
She added: “No wonder the council initially wanted to take the vote in private.
“Even the SNP’s own supporters will find it hard to justify this decision. The fact is they have the power to make a difference and they chose to do nothing.”
At the meeting last week Councillor Bollan said: “According to this report there could be 2865 women who are being denied a payment of some sort under the Equal Pay Act. It’s unacceptable for one woman but to have 2865 is quite incredible.”
He added: “I am sitting looking across at the SNP group and I am looking at the same women who were involved in the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign.
“Some of our women workers are carers. They work at the sharp end, delivering services to some of the most vulnerable in our community, and it’s only right that we should treat them with equality and dignity.”
Dumbarton councillor Karen Conaghan said she could not believe anyone was not aware they could make a claim.
She added: “I don’t think anyone here is happy with this. There will be people who have missed out. That’s absolutely terrible.”
The SNP member accused the Labour Party of failing to address the issue when they were in control of the council, until May this year, as the time bar closed two months earlier.
After the meeting former council leader Martin Rooney said the number of valid claims for compensation was not known until after March 31.
Unite convenor Charlie McDonald told the Lennox Herald the union had written to all members in 2012, when this inequality came to light.
He added: “If there was somebody working shoulder to shoulder to another who claimed and they didn’t and it was paid out I would certainly feel sorry for them.
“People maybe didn’t realise what it was for whatever reason. I can understand why people are upset.”
The council’s head of legal, democratic and regulatory services Peter Hessett told the meeting he sought independent legal advice on repayment action which the council could take. The report indicated that, as a result of this advice, because the time bar has expired payments would be unlawful because they “wouldn’t be in accordance with the council’s duty to obtain best value” and the payments would be “irrationally generous”.
The recommendation to take no further action was agreed by 11 votes to eight. All Labour members, Jim Bollan and Tory councillor Brian Walker voted in favour of a Labour motion for the chief executive to get detailed costings for exploring potential payment to 1082 female employees, including learning assistants, admin workers and library staff.
Unfair Catering staff at Dumbarton’s biggest high school are said to have been unaware that they were paid wrongly
Sympathy Unite official Charlie McDonald