Women drag last equal pay claim council to court, says UNISON

Reading council – the only local authority in England and Wales never to settle an equal pay claim – will today (Monday) be challenged in court by more than 60 women owed over £1.5m because they were paid less than their male colleagues for years, says their union UNISON.

The women – mostly care workers, cooks and administrators – are angry that seven years on from the council’s acceptance it had broken equal pay laws, none of them have received a penny in backdated pay.

UNISON says that although the council has set aside £9m to settle its equal pay obligations, it has instead been using the cash to balance its budget.

One of the women is owed as much as £47,000, with her remaining colleagues due an average of £10-15,000 each, says UNISON.

UNISON has accused Reading council of dragging its feet, and rather than doing the right thing by paying up, has chosen instead to shell out more than £800,000 on lawyers in an attempt to delay settling its equal pay debts.

But today at an employment tribunal in the town, UNISON will argue that because so much time has already passed, the low-paid women shouldn’t have to wait a moment longer for the wages they are owed.

The council has taken so long with these equal pay claims that one of the claimants has died since the case was lodged.

The women’s case is based on the fact that Reading council was employing men doing equivalent jobs to them but paying the men substantially more.

Commenting on the tribunal, UNISON south east regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe said: “Reading council has known for many years it was guilty of treating its low-paid male and female employees very differently.

“But rather than cough up the cash owed when it had the chance, the local authority has instead chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on expensive lawyers trying to avoid settling the case.

“The council’s actions are nothing short of immoral. The stress of the last seven years has taken its toll upon many of the women, who will be hoping that today really is the beginning of the end.

“Seven years is way too long for anyone to have to wait for wages that are rightfully theirs. Hopefully Reading council will today see sense and pay the women the money they are due.”

Notes to editors:
– The tribunal – at 30-31 Friar Street, Reading RG1 1DX – is expected to last all week. At 9.30am on Monday morning the women will be staging a protest at the council’s failure to pay them the wages they are due.
– These claims arose because Reading council previously had a system of paying bonuses to staff in manual occupations, and they were predominantly men. The bonuses were not available to women doing jobs of equal value. Some of the women have claims dating back as far as 2003, which run up until 2011 when Reading council introduced a new pay and grading system.
– Today is the third time the Reading equal pay case has been the subject of a tribunal hearing since 2009.

Media contacts:
Jenny Mason T: 01483 406513 M: 07534 247182 E: j.mason@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk
Alan Weaver T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07939 143310 E: a.weaver@unison.co.uk