A LEGAL defeat could leave the city council facing a new £20 million “equal pay” bill – as it emerged that total pay-outs are set to soar above £90m.
The council has lost a high-profile appeal it lodged in the Court of Session against a previous ruling that ordered it to pay compensation to 400 women in traditionally female- dominated roles, including classroom assistants, social care workers and clerical assistants.
The latest claims are different to most of the earlier claims as the women were looking for compensation 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. It is expected to open the floodgates to similar claims in Edinburgh and across Scotland.
But council chiefs have not ruled out appealing against the decision a second time and taking the matter to the Supreme Court in London – although that would come with considerable legal costs.
Carol Fox, solicitor and director of Fox Cross Solicitors, which was representing the 400 women, said: “This is a huge case and it will affect thousands of cases throughout Scotland, not just in Edinburgh, and some have waited 10 years to get these cases resolved.
“The council should now pay these women what they are due and not delay. The employment tribunal said they were ‘defending the indefensible’ and the longer they delay it the more it will cost.”
She added: “It would be tragic for the women and an abuse of taxpayers’ money if the council take these arguments to the Supreme Court in London or all the way to Europe before they are finally defeated.”
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 ruling from the Court of Session is likely to result in more claims from women who say that they are paid less than men in “equal value” jobs.
The total cost of pay-outs 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.
Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance at the council, said: “We are aware of the implications of the judgement 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 judgement in our favour regardless of whether or not we decide to appeal this particular point.”
In relation to the potential for claims in future years, he added: “The council implemented ‘single status’ on October 4, 2010, bringing to an end the historical pay inequalities which created these claims.”