FOUR hundred women including classroom assistants and social workers are today celebrating after having their equal pay claims settled by the city council in a landmark case which could be echoed across the country.
Council bosses have agreed to pay out a total of up to £20 million to the women, who have been seeking compensation for as long as seven years in some cases, to cover differences in pay with men.
The exact settlement – reached with Fox Cross Solicitors Limited, which was representing the 400 women – has not yet been revealed, although it is understood the total cost to the council could be as high as £20m and individual claims could amount to tens of thousands.
The city council last year lost an appeal it lodged in the Court of Session against a previous ruling that ordered it to pay compensation to the 400 women.
The authority was considering appealing against the decision a second time and taking the matter to the Supreme Court in London, but the settlement announced yesterday means this appeal has now been withdrawn.
Carol Fox, solicitor and director of Fox Cross Solicitors, said the agreement reached in Edinburgh was likely to affect 1200 similar cases throughout Scotland.
She said: “This is an important settlement which will benefit hundreds of claimants in Edinburgh.
“We are pleased to have reached final settlement with Edinburgh City Council on terms which we can recommend to our clients to bring all the litigation against the council to a conclusion.
“As part of the settlement the council have agreed to withdraw their appeal to the Supreme Court in London.
“We hope that other councils will follow this lead and make the long-awaited payments due to low-paid female workers.”
The claims will all be backdated five years from the date of the claim, with the earliest case having been launched in 2005.
They relate to around 400 administrative, professional, technical and clerical staff working in roles such as classroom assistants, clerical assistants and social care workers.
Compensation was sought to cover differences in pay with men who do different jobs but are on the same staff grading, such as refuse collectors, road workers and gardeners.
Most of the claims settled before now have been for roles such as cleaners, caterers and home help workers, where women demanded compensation for up to five years of work where they were paid at a lower rate than male counterparts.
The total cost of payouts by the city council so far has been £44m, although it has set aside another £46m to meet ongoing claims.
New “single status” working arrangements were introduced last year that resulted in many male manual workers receiving lower pay than they previously did but the move protected the council against any further claims.
Finance leader Councillor Phil Wheeler said: “We had to consider and balance two important issues.
“One is meeting our legal and moral obligations to staff who may have been disadvantaged by historic unequal pay. The second is our responsibility to use public money wisely.
“This has been a difficult process for all sides and I’m sure everyone will welcome a swift conclusion.”
‘It’s a pity it’s taken so long’
Catherine Chambers is one of the women who has finally had her pay claim settled.
Mrs Chambers, 66, worked for the council for 33 years, becoming cook supervisor at Gracemount Primary and then Burdiehouse Primary.
She said: “I’m delighted at the council’s decision, however, it’s a pity that it’s taken so long.
“In some cases cook supervisors are catering for three or four different schools, which incurs a great deal of responsibility.
“Added to this, they have to get involved manually with day-to-day preparation of food.
“It was insulting to see other kitchen staff getting equal pay compensation where we were ignored because we were being classed as APT&C staff and not considered as manual workers.”