Dumfries and Galloway equal pay case victory

Nursery class The case was brought on behalf of workers including nursery nurses and classroom assistants

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The local authority workers' union, Unison, has won an equal pay case at the Supreme Court.

It was pursuing the claim for Dumfries and Galloway Council female staff including nursery nurses and support for learning and classroom assistants.

It argued their terms and conditions should be in line with male manual workers like refuse collectors.

The Supreme Court found in their favour and referred the case back to an employment tribunal.

It will now decide if the women's work should considered equivalent to the men's.

More than 200 equal pay claims were brought on behalf of classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses working at schools in Dumfries and Galloway.

Analysis

This is a highly technical ruling -which Unison has hailed as an historic equal pay victory.

A total of 251 workers, mainly female, working in Dumfries and Galloway as classroom assistants and nursery nurses claimed their pay conditions should be the same as in predominantly male occupations such as refuse collectors and groundsmen.

The men get a supplement to their basic pay; the classroom assistants do not.

An employment tribunal said it could look at the issue, but the council appealed against that decision in a case finally concluded today at the UK Supreme Court.

Judges there ruled the tribunal can, after all, make a decision, although it will be some time before it will hear the case.

Unison said the Supreme Court ruling could cost councils across Scotland £12m in compensation payments.

Dumfries and Galloway says it will consider its response.

They are seeking the same treatment as male manual workers such as leisure attendants, road workers, groundsmen, refuse drivers and collectors working at local depots and swimming pools.

The female staff are employed on conditions set out in a what is known as the Blue Book while their male counterparts have a Green Book.

The latter allows for bonus payments and pay supplements while the former does not.

An employment tribunal allowed the claim to proceed but an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned that decision.

It ruled there was no "real possibility" of the male workers doing their jobs in schools.

The Court of Session disagreed with that finding but still dismissed the appeal on the grounds that if the men were to be employed in schools their terms and conditions would not be "broadly similar" to their existing terms.

The union took the case to the Supreme Court which upheld its appeal.

Unison said the decision paved the way for nearly 2,000 of its female members to share £12m in compensation after the seven-year case.

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: "I am delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of our women members.

"It is a shame, though, that they have had to go through this process and endure a seven-year wait, just to get equal pay.

"Dumfries and Galloway Council should take immediate steps to correct their pay and I urge other councils to follow suit."

'Long fight'

Dumfries support for learning assistant Elaine North, one of the appellants, said it had been a "very long fight".

"We have won what is rightfully ours and 251 women employed by Dumfries and Galloway Council will be celebrating tonight," she added.

A statement for Dumfries and Galloway Council described it as a "complex case" which had seen both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Session find in its favour.

"The Supreme Court judgment is the most recent stage of the legal process," it said.

"The appellants, including classroom assistants and nursery nurses, now have won the right to have their jobs compared to those of male manual workers, such as road workers and groundsmen.

"This judgment has implications for many local authorities and other public bodies.

"Our council will now consider its position in response to the Supreme Court judgment."

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