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Cash-short councils forced to defer equal pay


Lack of cash to fund new pay and grading structures is causing local authorities to delay implementing reforms designed to yield equal pay for work of equal value for 900,000 women council workers - including catering assistants, cleaners, careworkers, school-meal supervisors and nursery nurses - according to research published by employment analysts Industrial Relations Services (IRS).

IRS warns that these delays leave councils throughout the country vulnerable to employment tribunal cases, under the legislation on equal pay for work of equal value. These could cost larger authorities millions of pounds in back pay and increased salaries for women in female-dominated occupations who are found to be underpaid compared with male council employees in comparable jobs.

Council employers and unions GMB, TGWU and Unison signed a national deal, designed to address the issue of equal pay in local authorities, in July 1997. But progress in the three years since the agreement was reached has been very slow, according to the first authoritative survey on local government employment reform, published today in IRS Employment Trends.

Reasons given by councils for slow progress Based on information from 98 local authorities, together accounting for 700,000 (58%) of the 1.2 million employees covered by the deal, today's IRS research finds that just 7% of councils have carried out a job evaluation exercise - a thorough analysis of the contents of each job and its value to the organisation - and put in place a new pay and grading structure designed to yield equal pay for work of equal value.include:

  • a lack of financial resources - survey responses suggest that new pay and grading structures cannot be implemented at nil cost in larger local authorities with significant numbers of former manual-graded workers. Several councils told IRS they are faced with potential bills of millions of pounds. Examples include the London Borough of Greenwich (£6 million), Essex County Council (£6 million), West Sussex County Council (£5 million), Plymouth City Council (£1 million) and Stockport Metropolitan Council (£1 million);
  • problems with job evaluation - although 71% of councils have chosen a job evaluation scheme, and 70% of these have chosen the scheme specifically designed for local government harmonisation by employers' representatives and trade unions, only 44% have so far begun to conduct job evaluation exercises. Councils are well aware of the risk of equal pay claims, according to the IRS research, but many have delayed job evaluation because senior managers are concerned about the impact on their workforces of implementing job evaluation and a new grading structure in a way that results in a large section of the workforce being downgraded - the only alternative route to pay equality if the funds are not available to equalise underpaid women's wages upwards; and
  • tough negotiations with the trade unions - 33% of councils cite difficulties in reaching local agreement with the trade unions as a reason for slow progress in implementing the single-status agreement. A majority of these report a reluctance among the unions to accept anything but improved benefits for all employees, while some also point to conflicts between the different unions as a delaying factor.


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