Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Wage Wars

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Wage Wars

Article excerpt

Byline: By Barbara Argument Evening Gazette

Stuart Hill is the firebrand back to haunt Teesside councils.

In the Nineties, as a local union boss, he was at the sharp end of a long fight to force them to cough up a whopping pounds 5 million to underpaid women workers.

Now he's on the warpath again.

This time, he aims to honour a promise made back in 1996 to grab equal pay for more of the councils' lowest-paid women.

One worker whose case he has already investigated could be due up to pounds 25,000, he says.

And with at least 1,500 Middlesbrough Council women entitled to claim according to Stuart, the amount of compensation could be massive.

Says Stuart: "It makes me angry at the injustice of them not having the pay which is their due.

"Over all these years it would have made a massive difference to their lives.

"But for some mysterious reason the trade unions forgot about the promise.

"They agreed to hold off for three years when Labour was elected, but that time is long past."

Last time the 52 year-old slugged it out, he paid a heavy personal price for victory.

It cost him his Middlesbrough Council job and he was expelled from Unison.

Though he won pounds 45,000 for unfair dismissal at a tribunal, Stuart's life lay in tatters until one day he landed a job made for him in heaven.

In Carlisle on business, he saw a local newspaper ad from the law firm who had represented the Teesside workers, offering to take up equal pay cases.

Stuart rang lawyer boss, Stefan Cross on Tyneside, and told him: "Glad to see you're still fighting the battle."

To which Stefan Cross replied: "Come and join us." Stuart did and now he is the law firm's man on the ground, the link between worker and lawyer.

This week, Stuart is back on his old stomping ground and ready to call old adversaries into battle.

He laughs at being dubbed Teesside's answer to Erin Brokovich, the glam US law girl whose compensation victory for people poisoned by the town's water supply was turned into a blockbuster movie starring Julia Roberts.

"Don't look much like her," he grins.

But the comparison is not that way out.

Boro born and bred Stuart like Erin, is not a lawyer, but when it comes to a fight he weighs in with grit, determination and grassroots know-how.

Stuart has never forgotten the promise made seven years ago when Cleveland County Council's 1,500 dinner ladies won their landmark pay battle and the four unitary authorities had to pay up.

Says Stuart: "The unions told the carers and cleaners they would be next, but mysteriously it never happened."

He says the time to win them justice is long overdue with the women earning two-thirds of men with equivalent skills and also denied the bonuses available to men.

Tonight Stuart and boss, Stefan Cross, are explaining the deal to women council workers at a meeting in Middlesbrough. …

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