Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

School workers win equality battle

Dave Prentis said Unison would continue to pursue cases until all women are treated equally

A group of female school employees have won a Supreme Court victory in their equal pay fight against a local authority.

Five justices in London announced a ruling in favour of 251 classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses employed by Dumfries and Galloway Council.

The issue in their appeal was whether they satisfied the threshold conditions set out under the Equal Pay Act 1970 to bring claims alleging that they are employed under less favourable terms and conditions than certain male employees of the council who do work of equal value.

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed their appeal and restored the decision of an employment tribunal permitting the claims to be brought. It is now for the tribunal to decide whether the women's work is of equal value to the male "comparators" and, if so, whether there is an explanation other than the difference in sex for the difference between their terms and conditions.

The Unison union described the ruling as "historic" and said it was "worth millions of pounds for members", with general secretary Dave Prentis saying: "I am delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of our women members. It is a shame, though, that they have had to go through this process and endure a seven-year wait just to get equal pay.

"Dumfries and Galloway Council should take immediate steps to correct their pay and I urge other councils to follow suit. We have more than 2,000 other cases on hold, waiting for this judgment. Employers should be in no doubt that this union will continue to pursue cases until all women are treated equally. There are far too many who are still discriminated against and far too many employers who are using every single legal argument and loophole to dodge their obligations under equal pay law."

Dumfries classroom assistant Karen Korkus, one of the 251 appellants, said: "This has been a very long fight but we knew all along that we should be able to compare our work with the men, who sometimes did work in schools, but were not based there like us. I am so proud of the women here in Dumfries who stayed strong even when we lost a couple of decisions along the way."

Unison Scottish secretary Mike Kirby congratulated the Dumfries women and said their success will immediately help nearly 2,000 members in Scotland with similar cases as well as having important wider implications, adding: "This is a landmark case in equal pay across the UK. Unison's determination to fight for our members has successfully defended the intentions of the Equal Pay Act. Losing this would have been a serious setback for the Act itself."

Dumfries and Galloway Council said in a statement: "This is a complex case, which has been considered by employment tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal, Court of Session, and now the Supreme Court. The Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Session both ruled in our favour. The Supreme Court judgment is the most recent stage of the legal process.

"The appellants, including classroom assistants and nursery nurses, now have won the right to have their jobs compared to those of male manual workers, such as road workers and groundsmen. This judgment has implications for many local authorities and other public bodies."

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