Taxpayers facing £20m bill after capital fails to honour equal pay

TAXPAYERS in Edinburgh are facing a £20 million bill after a court ruled in favour of hundreds of equal pay claims against the city council.

Lawyers representing more than 400 female workers claimed victory after the Court of Session ruled their jobs should be compared to those of male manual workers when it came to their pay.

It believes they are now in line for payments of up to £30,000 for classroom assistants, social care workers, librarians and nursery nurses, who the lawyers believe are paid a lot less than male refuse collectors and gardeners.

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However, last night the council indicated it may seek a further appeal, which would be heard at the Supreme Court in London.

It is thought the ruling could potentially affect some 70,000 council workers across the UK.

The local authority has already been forced to fork out £44m to cleaners, home carers and catering assistants who complained they were being treated unfairly compared with male workers.

And yesterday the council admitted it had set aside a further £46m for some 1,500 outstanding cases, which are being handled by lawyers under legislation introduced in 1999 to harmonise pay and conditions for local government workers.

Workers can claim for compensation for up to five years of work if councils accept they have been discriminated against, but any delay from the date a claim is made also has to be taken into account.

Edinburgh was the last council in Scotland to introduce a “single status” agreement to head off any further cases of discrimination, following a lengthy dispute with trade unions. Some 15,000 staff were warned they would lose their jobs if they did not accept new terms and conditions.

The legal firm handling the latest cases said around 20 other local authorities were awaiting the results of the ruling affecting Edinburgh City Council.

Carol Fox, solicitor and director of Fox Cross Solicitors, said the latest ruling at the Court of Session had merely supported the findings of employment tribunals which had ruled against the council.

“Three courts have found that the council’s arguments are without legal merit, and it would indeed be an outrage if the council appeals further only to exhaust the legal procedures available while low-paid women have waited over five years for equal pay,” she said.

“Sadly, there appears to be no moral reluctance by the council to exhaust the appeal process despite the lack of legal merit.”

Any awards would depend on an individual’s hours and when they lodged their original claim.

A spokesman for public sector union Unison said: “This judgment is welcome. It widens the range of arguments we can use as we work to break down the barriers preventing women gaining equal treatment in the workplace.

“Three senior judges have now decided that the women will be allowed to argue equal pay claims comparing themselves with male workers employed in different workplaces by the council.”

Alastair Maclean, the council’s director of corporate governance, said: “We are aware of the implications of the judgment and are currently considering the council’s options.

“As part of the continuing tribunal process, further assessments have still to be undertaken and this could result in a judgment in our favour.”