Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blow for Council in Equal Pay Struggle; Tribunal Has Ruled on Who Should Pay Out

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blow for Council in Equal Pay Struggle; Tribunal Has Ruled on Who Should Pay Out

Article excerpt

Byline: Joanne Butcher

ANORTH East council wanted two of the UK's biggest trade unions to shoulder part of a pounds 30m pay-out for workers. Earlier this year, women who worked for Sunderland City Council won compensation for receiving less money than men in similar roles.

But originally many of the women had also tried to claim against their own unions - GMB and Unison - as well as council bosses.

And the council had argued the unions should pay a share of the final compensation bill.

But an employment appeals tribunal has now ruled it does not have the power to make more than one party pay out, which could have widespread impact on the thousands of other equal pay claims still being processed across the North East.

The row dates back to 1997 when Sunderland, along with other councils, brought in single status pay in a bid to improve pay equality.

In many cases the unions negotiated to save bonus systems for jobs such as street sweepers, gardeners and security guards. Roles such as cleaners, cooks and care workers - mainly held by women - didn't have bonuses, leaving them hugely out of pocket.

Tens of thousands of North East woman took out equal pay claims against their former employers. And in February this year an employment tribunal ruled in favour of 1,100 female workers from Sunderland.

Lawyer Stefan Cross, acting for the Sunderland women, had initially claimed the unions were also in the wrong by signing the single status agreement which created the pay gap.

But he said the claims were withdrawn to concentrate on the council and streamline a case which took seven years of wrangling to complete.

"The council says it is in this with the unions," said Mr Cross, whose office is based in Newcastle.

"It claims the decisions it took were taken at the behest of the unions, so they should pay some of the compensation. The tribunal decided it was not within its power to make that ruling.

"However I think the unions still have a political case to answer as they were facing both ways. …

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