We may not have created the equal pay mess but we WILL solve it

In the past week, thousands of women in Glasgow exercised their right to withdraw their labour as part of the campaign towards delivering equal pay. In doing so, and whatever opinion may be held about the merits of the strike action, they highlighted the value of the crucial work they do for this city and its people.

Without home carers we simply cannot meet our duty to provide care for frail older people, the vulnerable, the dying and others who need support in their own homes.

Gendered inequalities have been around for as long as women have worked. And we know that local authorities are not alone in having their challenges in relation to paying men and women equally for equal work.

Twelve years ago – in an attempt to rectify previous disparities in pay – the then Labour administration simply created new and complex pay structures which favoured predominately male roles.

Unusually, the pay scheme in Glasgow has core pay and non-core pay. It is in

non-core pay where a lot of the complexities exist and which need to be worked through. This is what the negotiations are looking to do.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that a political calculation was made then that undervaluing and underpaying women in order to protect the male, unionised workforce was a price worth paying for not putting in place a fair and just pay structure.

I sympathise with and understand fully the frustration and anger of these women who have been undervalued by the council in the past, and spent a decade watching successive Labour administrations refuse to talk or negotiate with them – or even to investigate whether their claims were valid.

As I have previously stated, whatever the settlement figure – and we anticipate the cost of the discrimination these women have faced to be considerable – the cost of not negotiating a settlement, of not pursuing justice, and of undervaluing and discriminating against the women who deliver lifeline services to our citizens, is much greater.

My commitment to finding a resolution to this has never wavered. The women won their fight when the SNP assumed control of Glasgow City Council. The home carers and other female workers had waited long enough for a council administration in Glasgow to step up, take responsibility and demonstrate leadership. I promised before I was elected that this would be a priority and that the SNP would be the ones to finally grasp this nettle. We knew that finding a resolution would be among the toughest challenges any administration in this city has faced in modern times.

I agree fundamentally with the trade unions that their claimants have a case, but I do not agree that little progress has been made on this issue, or, for that matter, that attempts have been made to stall it, since I was elected as council leader last May.

Indeed when we look back at where we started from, we can see the progress we have made in a short period of time.

The first decision on equal pay facing the council’s SNP administration came within weeks of the election last May, when the Court of Session found against the council on the issue of pay protection.

Councils are allowed to put in place a period of protection when they change employees’ pay, but the court found that the way the former Labour administration had done so gave that protection only to men.

Women should have been brought up to the same level of pay as men and after the protection period ended any subsequent regrading – up or down – should then have affected men and women equally.

Instead, the Labour administration kept men and women at the same grade at different pay levels for three years.

The SNP administration could have appealed the court decision, but we chose not to do so … and that was the right course of action.

Then, in January of this year, we took the hugely significant step of abandoning many years of litigation – and the option of a Supreme Court appeal – in favour of negotiation.

It was the first time since October 2006 that a committee of Glasgow City Council was asked to take a decision on equal pay and the first time in the history of this issue that any council in Scotland took steps to ensure politicians took control of equal pay.

I said then that the numbers of cases involved and the complexity of the council’s pay and grading arrangements were such that it would take many months of analysis, comparison and

negotiation before even the principles of a settlement were finalised.

In June we agreed to abandon Workforce Pay and Benefit Review (WPBR), a discredited pay and grading system. In October we agreed to replace it with the fairer scheme used by the vast majority of other Scottish councils and which should have been put in place by Labour in the first place.

In September Cordia, where most of the affected women are employed, was brought back under council control –which was a demand of the trade unions that we were happy to facilitate because I believe it is the right thing to do.

I will never fail to be shocked at the lack of work done by previous administrations to establish a range or scope or a financial envelope for any potential settlement. Labour never sought to learn from the experience of other local authorities – many of which they also led.

They did not have any meaningful discussions with staff representatives, or even test the basis of the claims. Indeed they spent more than £2 million pounds continuing to defend this indefensible scheme in court.

In contrast, since I have been in charge, settling the equal pay issue has been my top priority. There are now more than

30 full-time members of staff dealing with this – and we’re employing 10 more.

It shows our commitment – not only mine, but also that of the council’s chief executive, who has ensured that the resources are in place to get this done quickly and to meet the timetable set out earlier this year.

S0 where now? The strike has passed and, after tentative talks in the past few days, equal pay negotiations will resume this week. December remains the target for an agreement.

Make no mistake, the decision and adherence to a discriminatory pay scheme by Labour comes at a massive cost. This is where the discrimination lay and it will cost the city hundreds of millions of pounds to resolve.

We are working hard on a financial strategy which will allow us to meet the cost and as part of that we are having technical discussions with civil servants.

I have also discussed this with the Scottish Government’s finance secretary. My view is that the Scottish Government does not have the resources to deal with this issue and, frankly, nor should it do so. I have never thought it was credible, or in any way responsible, for Glasgow City Council to insist that people across Scotland pay the price for an issue that is entirely of Glasgow City Council’s making.

Initial work has focused on refinancing existing debt and finding new ways to access financial markets, rather than a wholesale sell off of council assets.

Justice comes with a price and the solution to this issue might be difficult for the council, but that should not be used as an excuse for allowing inequality to continue.

Women speaking out have put gender equality on to the public agenda in 2018, from Hollywood to Holyrood to organisations like the BBC. Indeed, the women who took to the streets of Glasgow and made their voices heard have been part of that.

I have listened and I am still listening. I listened last Tuesday and Wednesday and remain as determined as I was when I became leader that Glasgow City Council will soon deliver pay justice for women and unburden itself of its past.