Door closed on equal pay deals

Anger as 3000 work­ers lose out

Lennox Herald - - NEWS - Lor­raine Weir

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

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