Female workers face Reading Council in court in historic equal pay battle

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Female workers have faced Reading Council in court over historic equal pay disputes.

More than 60 women are fighting the council, claiming they are owed over £1.5 million in pay after being paid less than their male colleagues for years.

In 2009 Reading Council accepted that it had broken equal pay laws. Despite this, seven years later, none of the claimants have received any money in backdated pay. The equal pay case has been the subject of a tribunal hearing three times since 2009.

Unison, the union representing the female workers, has urged the council to stop ‘dragging its feet’. The union has also accused the local authority of using the £9 million set aside to pay the claims to balance its budget.

UNISON claims that one woman is owed as much as £47,000, while other workers are due on average £10,000 to £15,000 each. The council has taken so long with these equal pay claims that one of the claimants has died since the case was lodged.

The pay disparity occurred because Reading council previously had a system of paying bonuses to staff in manual occupations, who were predominantly male. However, these 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.

Maggi Ferncombe, Unison south east regional secretary, 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.”

However, a Reading Borough Council spokesman said, “The council has an equal pay policy for all staff, in accordance with national and legal requirements.”

“This tribunal relates to historic equal pay claims which are not unique to Reading and which many local authorities have gone through.”

“Where historic claims arise they are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and through the employment tribunal system. Considerable research is required going back a number of years in terms of historic salaries, allowances, changes in individual circumstances and, in particular, the exact day-to-day duties undertaken.”

“There are around 180 claimants across 45 different roles. Job descriptions, and comparisons between different roles, then need to be agreed by all sides via the tribunal system.”

“As a result cases are complex and can take some time to resolve.”

“Progress is being made on settlement discussions.”

“By the end of this year the council hopes to be in a position to begin to make payments in some individual cases.”

“This is likely to continue through 2017. Where there are areas of dispute, partial payments will also be considered where appropriate and pending on-going discussions.”

The news comes after it was announced that Asda could face a £100 million pay out to thousands of female workers.

Earlier this week, a judge ruled that the workers, who are mainly women, could proceed down legal channels with their equal pay claim against the supermarket.

Employees are taking the supermarket to court over claims that workers in the distribution depots earn substantially more than those working in the retail stores.

At the hearing, the judge said that the work conducted by female workers in the stores could be compared to that of higher paid men in Asda’s distributions centres.

About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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