Some 10,000 Scots turned to employment tribunals last year in an attempt to secure fair pay deals, new figures show.
Of 27,900 cases in Scotland that were referred to an employment tribunal in the 2011-12 financial year, more than a third were in relation to equal pay, according to research by Ashworth Black, a pay and reward consultancy. It predicted that more workers could take action as awareness of their rights increases in the difficult economic climate.
It said employers in Scotland were ignoring a “ticking timebomb” by continuing to pay some staff more than others for doing the same job.
Many of the claims were made by employees of local authorities, which have been accused of dodging their obligations by failing to pay out to equal pay claimants.
Thousands of equal pay cases remain lodged in the tribunal system, according to the GMB union, which said local authorities are deliberately delaying and leaving workers out of pocket.
Local authorities are not alone in failing to ensure that employees are paid fairly, however.
Lorna Ashworth, managing director of Ashworth Black, said: “These figures show that Scottish companies and employers still have some way to go to ensure parity across their employees.”
Employers are now expected to use pay structures based on job evaluation schemes that conform to the Equality Act 2010. But Ashworth said too many employers have failed to put a job evaluation system in place, leaving them open to challenge from female employees seeking parity with male colleagues.
She described the issue as a “ticking timebomb” for employers: “With no proper justification of the pay scales, they don’t want to open the proverbial can of worms. So they think it is an easier way forward to ignore it and hope it doesn’t raise its head as an issue.”
They are unlikely to be so fortunate, however, with people increasingly aware of their rights.
Ashworth said: “In the 21st century it really concerns me to learn that there are still people facing issues of equal pay. As more people hear about successful claims I won’t be surprised if more people start looking seriously into challenging their own situations of equal pay and raising it as an issue.”
Many of the cases going to tribunal are against local authorities.
In one recent high-profile case, 2,400 former and current female South Lanarkshire Council workers secured a ruling in their favour in their dispute with the local authority.
An employment tribunal judged that the council’s job evaluations failed to meet the demands of the Equal Pay Act 1970, now part of the Equality Act 2010.
Alex McLuckie, a spokesman for GMB Scotland, said employers were dragging their feet in complying with the rules.
“It is not the amount of claims that are lodged at tribunal that is the issue for us, it is the amount of time it is taking for these cases to be heard or resolved.
“Much of this delay is caused by the employers, many of them local authorities who deliberately delay the process to avoid paying out money to the claimants.
“It’s about time those councils with outstanding cases took steps to settle all these outstanding claims”