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Victory in battle for equal pay


equal pay victory, A historic ruling from the Supreme Court marks victory for female council workers.

Forty-three years after the Equal Pay Act in the UK, women are still fighting to make equal pay a reality.

An important victory in that fight was won this week for female council workers in Scotland, which could have implications for women throughout the country.

Female council staff in Dumfries and Galloway, including nursery workers and classroom assistants, have been paid under different terms and conditions than male council workers such as groundsmen and refuse drivers.

Specifically, male staff are awarded  substantial bonuses and pay supplements which female workers are not eligible for.

The councils had argued that because staff worked in different locations, in this case schools and depots, different rules could apply.

However, the female council workers maintained that despite working in different establishments they were ‘in the same employment’ as male council workers.

This means that, under the Equal Pay Act, they are entitled to be paid according to the same terms and conditions as men.

In short, the female council staff wanted to have their jobs recognised as equal to those of the male workers.

The Supreme Court decided in favour of the 251 female workers, ruling that the Scottish councils had discriminated against women in refusing to award them the same bonuses as male employees.

The five judges, who were unanimous in their decision, ruled that the equal pay law does apply in this case, where a woman works in a different establishment but ‘in the same employment’.

The case has been sent back to the employment tribunal which had originally heard and dismissed it.

Karen Korus, one of the appellants, described the process as ‘a long fight’. The case has indeed been making its way through the courts for seven years.

She said, ‘We knew all along that we should be able to compare our work with the men, who sometimes did work in schools, but were not based there like the rest of us’.

This decision has implications for thousands of other female council worker in similar situations.

There are already almost 2,000 similar cases waiting in the wings, which will now go ahead following this decision, and across the UK there are currently 50,000 live equal pay cases in local government.

A similar case, won in Birmingham in October 2012, prompted an increasing number of claimants to step forward.

In that case, female workers employed by the council had been excluded from the substantial bonuses male workers received.

This, in practice, meant that a male worker on the same pay grade as a female worker could take home four times more money.

The ruling in favour of those 174 female workers also extended the time limit for equal pay claims from six months to six years, encouraging other appellants to come forward for compensation.

As of last March, the payout bill for Birmingham City Council stood at £890 million.

Perhaps the Dumfries and Galloway case will have a similar ripple effect, so that more female workers can receive the pay they are owed?

Because the pay gap between men and women stubbornly persists.

According to the Fawcett Society, in 2012 women across all sectors earned 18.6 per cent less than men.

Even if we only look at full-time work, where the difference is less, women still take home only 85p to a man’s pound.

The overall picture in terms of women’s equality in the work place, of which pay equality is only one angle, is not looking rosy.

The UK dropped four places in the ‘Women in Work index’, which measures a country’s performance in five areas of ‘female economic empowerment’, and currently ranks 18th out of 27 OECD countries.

Every autumn, the Fawcett society ‘celebrates’ Equal Pay Day, which marks the point of the year from which women, compared to men, effectively start working for free. In 2012, this day was 7 November.

Let us hope that cases like the one in Dumfries and Galloway continue to be fought and won, so that ‘Equal Pay Day’ is be pushed later and later in the year, until we no longer have to mark it at all.

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