Equal pay workers Glasgow Council 'forced to pay fees'

Lawyer Stefan Cross runs private claims company Action 4 Equality.
Lawyer Stefan Cross runs private claims company Action 4 Equality.
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Thousands of women who fought Glasgow City Council for equal pay have had money deducted to pay legal fees despite pledges from their unions, a documentary is set to reveal tonight.

Members of Unison, Unite and the GMB were told they would get 100 per cent of the settlement money offered by the council, however, a BBC documentary, due to be screened this evening, has seen legal documents showing "all claimants" have had fees deducted.

Disclosure: The Great Equal Pay Scandal on BBC One Scotland, investigated the long-running dispute, which saw women being paid less than men in jobs of the same grade. The issue was settled in January, when Glasgow City Council agreed to pay out a reported £548 million to compensate the women for the money they should have been paid - in many cases going back to 2007 when the new job evaluation scheme was adopted.

The scheme was supposed to ensure that men and women received equal pay for jobs of the same value. But instead, some traditionally female-dominated roles such as catering or home care ended up being paid up to £3 an hour less than male-dominated jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

Representation

The majority of the 16,000 equal pay claimants were represented by private claims company Action 4 Equality, run by lawyer Stefan Cross.

Employment lawyer Carol Fox, who worked with Mr Cross on the Glasgow case between 2008 and 2015, told Disclosure that the unions only began to put claims in for the women when they saw the success of claims companies, who were taking on councils and winning.

By the time of the settlement with Glasgow, Unison had dealt with 5,000 claims, while the GMB had more than 2,500 and Unite had a small number of claims.

All the unions had promised members they would get all the money they were owed. However, Disclosure found that the three unions - as well as Action 4 Equality - entered into a deal before negotiations began with the council. As part of this deal, it was agreed that every claimant would have a percentage of the settlement offered by the council deducted in legal fees. This included those backed by their unions.

Stefan Cross says 6.9 per cent was deducted from "all the claimants", with a proportion being paid to his company, Action 4 Equality, however it is believed that none of the claimants represented by their unions were told they would be paying fees..

In his interview with the BBC, Mr Cross acknowledged the percentage deducted equated to "many millions" of pounds.

He said: "The unions' proposal was that we had to agree parity, to start with. The cost of that is that fees had to be paid somehow. And this is the most fair, most beneficial way for everybody that we did it on that basis.

"Every single agreement includes a legal commitment to make that payment."

Under the terms of the settlement, none of the women is allowed to speak about how much they were awarded. They were also not told the formula that was used to calculate their offer. Each woman had an "individual offer" depending on how far back they were allowed to claim, how much they were underpaid per hour and how many hours they worked.

'Troubled'

Ms Fox, who also worked on equal pay cases in North and South Lanarkshire, told the programme she was "troubled" by aspects of the settlement.

She worked alongside Stefan Cross, but left the company in 2015 and played no part in the final negotiations for the Glasgow settlement.

"That deal is very different from all the other settlements that we reached," she said. "It doesn't appear to me that they've been told the detail of what they've paid. And who they've paid it to, and what it's been for."

All of the claimant organisations said their members or clients benefited from this deal and received higher offers by working together.

Helen Mitchell, a home carer represented by Unison, said: "I object to paying Unison, I certainly object to paying Stefan Cross. I would like my money back."

The unions said settlements were based on a "complex formula" and they could not discuss them because they were confidential. As well as the legal fees, BBC Disclosure also discovered that potentially thousands of workers have missed out on claiming for the full extent of their discrimination.

Under Scottish law, workers who have been discriminated against are entitled to five years back-pay if their case is successful. Because the pay dispute at Glasgow City Council has gone on since 2006, the maximum time period claimants can receive compensation for is 12 years.

Audrey Masson worked as a home carer for 15 years but is receiving only five years back-pay. She alleges her union never told her to put in a claim. She did eventually lodge a claim but too late to receive the full amount of 12 years of back-pay.

Ms Masson said: "We stood on the picket lines for equality, and we didn't even get it. Most of the people that stood on the picket lines didn't even know they were only getting five years."

Read more: Deal agreed in Glasgow’s long-running equal pay dispute

According to Mr Cross, thousands of claims were lodged too late. He said it was a legal requirement that each individual must make their own decision as to whether they pursue a claim.

But he said "it is undoubtedly the case that there was not a campaign by the trade unions in the early days to put in cases".

Mr Cross said: "You have half the women getting [the full] worth of claim, and the other half getting a maximum of five years of claim, because their claims were not put in at the right time."

The GMB union, who represented Ms Masson, denied claims were put in late.

Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said: "We were given the wrong legal advice…we did not pursue the same cases as the private lawyers, or indeed one of the other unions. But our members were not left at a detriment in the end."

Peter Hunter, Unison's head of organising, said the union was proactive in pursuing claims.

The third union involved, Unite, said it did not accept its members had been left "in any detriment by failing to support and submit early equal pay claims".

Disclosure: The Great Equal Pay Scandal is on BBC One Scotland at 8:30 pm, Monday 14 October and on iplayer.