Lawyers urge caution over equal pay orders following Glasgow Council ruling
Scotland’s Court of Session upheld a previous ruling that policies put in place by the Council to reduce the impact of a job evaluation scheme, intended to make a range of different roles comparable following a round of equal pay awards, discriminated against female workers.
Lawyers have warned UK employers to be careful about how they implement equal pay orders after a Scottish court ruled in favour of thousands of women in a long-running dispute over equal pay.
The Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, found that policies put in place by Glasgow City Council to reduce the impact of a job evaluation scheme, intended to make a range of different roles comparable following a round of equal pay awards, discriminated against female workers.
The Council introduced a pay protection scheme, which effectively protected bonuses for so-called ‘red-circled’ employees who were mainly men and who would have seen their wages fall for three years in the wake of the equal pay awards. But the move resulted in the men’s overall renumeration packages remaining higher than women who performed equivalent roles.
Although an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had ruled that the scheme was discriminatory last March, the Council decided to appeal and the Court of Session has now upheld the EAT’s findings. Unison, one of the unions that brought the claim to court, said the decision could affect as many as 6,000 female personnel, some of whom had claims going back as far as 2006.
But as a result of the ruling, lawyers are now warning employers to take extra care when designing pay protection schemes, not least because the number of equal pay cases in the private sector is on the rise.
Shirley Hall, employment partner and equal pay/gender pay specialist at Eversheds Sutherland, told the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s People Management publication that “careful and detailed” consideration” had to be given to those to whom such schemes would apply.
“In the Glasgow City Council case, the Council had focused their attentions on why the red-circled employees should benefit from pay protection and had not considered why the [other] employees should not be included other than to state that the cost of such extension to the scheme would be ‘enormous’, she said. “Where employers are exploring objective justification and capturing their rationale in this respect, it is important that they address the actual costing of such inclusion and any other implications of the same.”
Susan Aitken, the Council’s leader, described the legal ruling as “complex”, but said it was now “clear that the aware of pay protection was done in such a way which discriminated against some of our female workers at that time”. As a result, she pledged to have “open discussions” with affected staff and their representatives on how to “give effect to this ruling”.
A second Court of Session judgement is also being awaited. Unions argue that the Glasgow Council’s approach to job evaluation, which uses scales for core pay and non-core pay, makes it impossible to truly assess whether staff receive equal pay for equal work.