Councils failing to deal with equal pay claims could lead to disaster – union

The First Minister has been warned that local councils’ refusal to engage with equal pay claims could have “disastrous” consequences for Scottish communities.

GMB Scotland has called on Humza Yousaf to support the creation of a new specialist body to decide on such claims across the country and to enforce awards.

The union, which represents low-paid women workers across the public sector, said retrospective claims for hundreds of millions of pounds could bankrupt local authorities.

The warning came as Falkirk council home care workers, who are mostly women on low wages, begin four days of strikes on Friday.

They will also strike next Wednesday alongside Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire council care staff.

The strikes come after the workers rejected internal reviews of their pay grade, stating their role and responsibilities have increased significantly since last being assessed.

GMB Scotland secretary, Louise Gilmour (pictured), wrote to Mr Yousaf, asking for a new specialist body to decide on equal pay claims across the country, stating local authorities are not doing so.

She said: “Scotland’s councils are approaching equal pay claims like the Titanic approaching the iceberg.

“Councillors have their heads in the sand and executives have their fingers in their ears but these equal pay claims will come, will be won, and will need to be settled.

“It is understandable that our councils are refusing to acknowledge the reality because the reality is unthinkable and the scale of these claims unimaginable for local authorities already being forced to cut services.

“Women who have been underpaid for far too long will still win these claims, however, and, unless that process is properly managed now, the impact on our councils and the communities they serve could be disastrous.”

Many of the women striking have said their roles and responsibilities have been undervalued for decades when compared to their male colleagues.

They have argued a higher pay grade could be retrospectively applied, allowing them to claim up to five years’ back pay.

GMB has estimated this could cost councils hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation.

GMB Scotland already has equal pay campaigns underway in Dundee, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Fife and Moray councils, with a process expected to lead to pay reviews in more than a dozen other local authorities across Scotland.

Glasgow City Council has sold multiple assets, including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the City Chambers, to settle an initial £770 million equal pay bill.

Ms Gilmour warned against any suggestion that low-paid women are somehow responsible for the possible financial emergency.

She said: “Blaming equal pay claims instead of the systematic pay discrimination that has prevailed in our councils for generations is as dishonest as it is disgraceful.

“It is an attempt at emotional blackmail to persuade women workers that they are somehow being greedy and risking men’s jobs by simply asking for what they are due and have been due for years and years.

“The financial crisis facing Scotland’s local councils is not about women, it is about fairness and has been too long coming.

“Equal pay is not going away. It is incumbent on trade unions and politicians of all parties to learn the mistakes of the past so they are never repeated.”

A spokesperson for Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnership said: “We are advising those receiving care, and their families, that our care and support at home service will operate on a reduced capacity during any industrial action by GMB Scotland.

“We are in the process of communicating directly with people supported by our service to advise of likely disruption to their care.

“Falkirk Council is committed to upholding equal pay and continues to engage with GMB. We will seek to minimise disruption for those in need of our care and support at home services”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Councils are responsible for meeting their legal obligations to their employees, including on equal pay.

“In the face of a profoundly challenging financial situation, the Scottish Government is making available record funding of more than £14 billion to councils in 2024-25 – a real-terms increase of 2.5% compared with the previous year”.

A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “We are actively engaged in discussions with trade unions to seek a resolution to the ongoing dispute and remain committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all of our service users.”

West Dunbartonshire Council has been contacted for comment.

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