Female workers serve strike notice on Glasgow City Council

Published

Credit: Hugo Cheung

Sam Doak
Reporter

GMB and Unison have both served notice for industrial action on the council over equal pay dispute

Over eight thousand workers are due to strike on October 23-24 in response to Glasgow City Council’s handling of an equal pay dispute. The planned 48 hours of industrial action will affect a wide variety of public services across the city. Schooling, care visits and catering are among the council provided services expected to be most affected.

This month’s industrial action comes after well over a decade of disputes between the Council and its female employees. Over twelve thousand women have made claims against the council, citing unequal pay conditions whilst being employed either directly by the council or by council-controlled companies. The strike is being organised by trade unions Unison and the GMB, both of whom represent claimants in the ongoing dispute.

In 2006 the Council was forced to recognise that there was an unacceptable disparity in the rates at which its male and female employees were paid for doing jobs deemed to be of an equal value. For years, those employed in traditionally male-dominated roles were reimbursed at significantly higher rates than employees in roles carried out mostly by women. The Council responded to this by implementing a new pay and benefits system for council employees. It was designed to be free of gender bias, however, bonuses for male workers were intended to be protected for three years after the implementation of the new system. This resulted in a continuation of unequal pay conditions for male and female workers. Following legal challenges, this was deemed to be illegal by the Court of Session. The council attempted to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court but was denied.

The council is currently in the process of negotiating settlements for workers who were underpaid under its previous pay and benefits systems. Unions working on behalf of the claimants, however, claim that negotiations with the council have broken down and that the council has not adhered to previously agreed upon timetables for talks. It is this development that October’s strike is being called in response to.

Mary Dawson, Chairwoman of Unison Glasgow commented recently on the union’s members’ decision to strike this month, saying: “Our members are now standing up and fighting back. Low paid workers, mostly women who have had enough.

“We have given the council 10 months to make progress on addressing the historical discrimination suffered by these workers. However, the council has agreed nothing, offered nothing, and all we have had are meetings about meetings and talks about talks. It’s time for some action.”

The council has stated that it has adhered to agreed-upon timetables for negotiations and that the upcoming strike will disrupt vital public services. SNP councillors have previously claimed that the strike’s Union organisers harbour close ties to the labour party and that it is politically motivated with the aim of damaging the council’s SNP administration.

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming strike it’s clear that the council will have to pay out vast sums of public money in order to settle the claims being pursued by its workers. In 2013, Birmingham City Council was faced with a £1.2 billion bill following a similar equal pay dispute, which forced the Council to sell off public assets such as the National Exhibition Centre. Action4Equality have estimated that Glasgow City Council will be forced to pay out between £500 million and £1 billion to claimants in order to settle its equal pay dispute. This has led to speculation that the council will be forced to sell off public assets such as the SEC and Christ of St John of the Cross, a council-owned Dali painting.

SNP Council leader Susan Aitkin has been dismissive of speculation that the council will be forced to follow Birmingham’s example and sell off public assets. Speaking on the BBC, Aitkin stated: “We are certainly not discussing flogging off the Dali.”