Speech in the Scottish Parliament
Equal Pay in Local Government
01 October 2009
We all recognise that equal pay is an important issue throughout the public and private sectors.
Only recently has unequal pay in the financial services industry been properly highlighted, and it is viewed as endemic and extremely difficult to eradicate.
However, unequal pay in local government is an issue that we politicians can do something about—indeed, we are obliged by law, under the equality duties, to rectify it.
The Equal Opportunities Committee took very telling evidence on equal pay in local government in February this year.
Our report was passed to the Local Government and Communities Committee, and has informed that committee's report.
The Equal Opportunities Committee is now taking evidence on equal pay in the national health service, and I expect the same cross-party reaction to the results of that inquiry.
The problem is not as widespread in the NHS, and there are not such huge costs involved.
For the individual worker, however, the unfairness of equal pay claims not being honoured in a timely fashion cannot be overestimated.
It is undeniably wrong that people who are on low wages—often women—must wait for their legitimate claims to be met.
It was pointed out to the Equal Opportunities Committee that some workers have retired or even died without having had their claims met.
That is totally unacceptable in the 21st century.
It is 100 years since women were given the vote on an equal basis with men, and it is totally unacceptable that many are still waiting to be paid on an equal basis.
In discussing the recession and arguing about budgets, it is essential that we note that it is those who are poorest paid who will feel the brunt of any drop in income and any cuts in services.
It is of the utmost importance that every policy, programme and service goes through a rigorous equality impact assessment.
We must ensure that we protect the lowest paid and the most vulnerable.
As we have heard today, equal pay is a complex area.
Case law has changed during the past few years, and any prior agreements have become subject to those changes.
As we have discussed, equal pay seeks to address the historical pay inequality to which women have been subjected. The gap that results from having to make payments following the implementation of the new equality-based pay structure must also be paid for; I welcome the Westminster Government's action to allow councils to use capitalisation to pay for that past inequality, and I recognise that it is only a matter of time until Scottish councils have that opportunity.
However, questions still remain with regard to the details and, in particular, the indicative figure that the cabinet secretary is discussing with the Treasury.
As Audit Scotland said, that approach is not without risk.
Councils will seek to recoup the borrowing over a period of time, which will in turn reduce the moneys that are available to them in future years, as would be the case with any liability.
The Scottish Government has said that that will relate only to the back pay element of equal payments, and councils will be required by Audit Scotland to say how they will deal with the issue.
Although equality issues are addressed in best-value audits, more prominence needs to be given to the area. Equalities cannot be viewed as a soft option that can be dropped when finances are tight.
I would welcome work by the Accounts Commission on gender equality in local government, of the type that it has already done on race equality.
There is also potential for equal pay to be included in the next two-year programme of performance audits for 2011-12.
In discussing equal pay, consideration must be given to the impact of single status on equal pay claims, in relation to cases in which—as we have heard—individuals feel that the new salaries are insufficient.
I welcome the review of job evaluations, as there are concerns not only about equal pay for equal work, but about the types of work that are equal.
The average woman in full-time work in the UK will lose out on £360,000 in the course of her working life.
The fact that the part-time pay gap remains a shocking 32.1 per cent shows that we must maintain a focus on valuing the types of jobs that women do.
For example, too many of our crucial caring jobs, which are undertaken largely by part-time female employees, continue to be poorly valued and poorly paid.
We must balance the issue of affordability for each council with the poverty that that situation creates.
Why should a low-paid worker—usually a woman—have to organise her budget over a number of years to help a local authority or any other part of Government to budget?
In the Equal Opportunities Committee's evidence sessions, it was indicated that the overall cost to the local government wage bill of single status is 4.7 per cent, which amounts to more than £11 billion of central Government funding.
As members have said, that issue was missed out from the concordat with local government.
It is essential that single outcome agreements highlight the issue of equal pay, and equalities more generally.
As we have heard, more than 30,000 cases are waiting in the Scottish tribunals system, many of which are awaiting the full implementation of single status.
I repeat the STUC's findings that local authorities have spent more than £1.6 million in legal fees to fight equal pay claims.
That money could have been spent on agreeing to implement a scheme that had been equality proofed.
All parties should get together to resolve the cases, particularly those cases in which the dispute is about compensation rather than discrimination.
In Scotland, we do not have case law that relates to equal pay issues, but cases such as Allen and Bainbridge apply—as we have heard—throughout the UK.
Everyone who submitted evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee agreed that litigation was not the best way to resolve the equal pay issue, but collective bargaining has broken down in the light of the Allen case.
I urge the Scottish Government to do all that it can to prevent further delays in implementation.
I commend the Local Government and Communities Committee's report to members, and I commend the convener's assurance that the committee will continue the important task of monitoring the issue.
You can share this speech with others on social networking sites , or post it to your online profile, or send it to a friend, by clicking on the link immediately below.
Back to previous page