For the first time since October 2006 a committee of Glasgow City Council was yesterday asked to take a decision on equal pay. After many years of litigation the council unanimously backed the SNP position to end the current legal action on equal pay and instead focus on resolving this protracted and often bitter dispute through negotiation.
It is a source of some pride and satisfaction that this is the first time in the history of this issue that any administration in Scotland has ensured politicians take hold of equal pay and determine the course of resolution.
So how did we get here? In recent years, Glasgow’s pay and grading scheme has come under increasing pressure. The Employment Appeal Tribunal in March 2016 found the Council had failed to justify its pay protection arrangements and a year later the Court of Session agreed with that. In August of this year, the Court of Session found the Council had not established that its pay and grading scheme was a valid job evaluation scheme and last month rejected Glasgow’s request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In voting not to continue litigation we took on board all legal considerations. But we also had to consider the council’s reputation and its future ability to engage in constructive industrial relations. In moving to deal with this though negotiation, we have also sent a clear message to our lower paid women employees about the value we place on the crucial work they do for this city and its people.
The SNP City Government has made clear it has concerns about the existing pay and benefits scheme, and this was echoed by other Councillors in the meeting yesterday too. Structural, gendered inequalities have been around for as long as women have worked and were built into the pay structures of Councils and many other employers for decades. Measures put in place by previous administrations of this council have simply not gone far enough to address that.
Women speaking out has put gender equality on the public agenda. From Holyrood to Hollywood to the BBC and indeed here in the Council where women have made their voices heard. We have listened and I am determined that 2018 will be the year where these issues continue to be aired in Glasgow and where we make strides for a resolution through negotiation. From a standing start just seven months ago we have taken the council to a place where it has grasped that nettle.
That the solution to this issue might be difficult for the Council is no excuse for allowing inequality to go unchallenged. It is hard to escape the view that a political calculation was made in the past that undervaluing and underpaying female-dominated jobs was a price worth paying for not putting in place a fair and just pay structure. But discrimination against women will never be a price I’m willing to pay.
Will there be a cost? Of course there will, though at this stage no-one can quantify what that will be. But justice comes with a price. Our officers have been instructed to begin work now to explore all financial options available to us. Other local authorities in the UK have been in this position and found solutions, so we are not doing this work in a vacuum. But however way we meet the final costs, our commitment to protecting frontline jobs and services will be absolute. And whatever the bill, 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.
This article originally appeared in the Herald.