Glasgow equal pay dispute not an isolated event, experts warn

Organisations still ‘shying away’ from addressing gender pay issues, as BBC faces renewed criticism

Organisations must take swift action to resolve equal pay disputes, or risk facing protests and potential legal action from unhappy members of staff, experts have warned, following two days of widespread public sector strikes across the city of Glasgow. 

An estimated 8,000 carers and service workers participated in the strike, thought to be one of the largest ever in the UK, in protest over a perceived lack of progress made by the city council in settling an equal pay claim over the underpayment of an estimated 12,000 staff. 

The row dates back to 2006, when the council introduced a job evaluation scheme that sought to ensure men and women received equal pay. However, the scheme included a three-year payment protection provision for male workers who lost bonuses as a result, which meant female workers being paid less than their male counterparts in jobs deemed to be of equal value.

Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, told People Management the large costs involved in historical equal pay claims could deter organisations from addressing issues swiftly, but warned the scrapping of tribunal fees in 2017 could leave employers more susceptible to legal action from staff. 

“The difficulty for employers is that employees who don’t feel they are being listened to, or where the matter is not resolved to their satisfaction, can seek a ‘free’ legal outcome,” he said. 

“Additionally, because many of these cases relate to historic concerns or pay schemes which have since been replaced, many organisations are likely to struggle with the overall cost of resolving these claims. Therefore, they may shy away from addressing this initially, to avoid opening the floodgates to similar claims.” 

Lawyers have estimated settling the equal pay claims could cost Glasgow City Council anything between £500m and £1bn. In 2012, Birmingham City Council paid a settlement of more than £757m after the Supreme Court upheld equal pay claims brought by employees working in traditionally female roles. 

The BBC also came under renewed fire over equal pay, after a damning report published today by the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee suggested women working at the corporation were still earning less than their male counterparts despite working in comparable jobs. 

The report, which called for an end to ‘invidious’ pay cultures, highlighted serious shortcomings in pay reform procedures, including a grievance process that can take more than a year to conclude. 

A spokesperson from the BBC criticised the report for being “out of date”, but the chair of the DCMS committee Damian Collins MP said the organisation had failed to “advance equality of opportunity,” and was unable to explain why or how pay discrimination had been left unchallenged for so long.

“The BBC must take urgent action now if it is to restore its reputation on equal pay and win back the trust of staff,” he said. 

“There must be a reduction in the time taken to resolve grievances.”