Jawaid Rehman, partner in the Employment Team at Weightmans LLP, on the legal issues currently facing Local Government in regards to equal pay
The equal pay issues faced by local authorities up and down the country have been well publicised. Generally, two types of claim have arisen:
• Firstly from those in female dominated claimant roles who claimed they were rated as equivalent to those in male dominated comparator groups under the old manual workers job evaluation scheme.
• Further claims were triggered by the implementation of Single Status. Whilst the aim of this was to place all employees on a properly evaluated pay and grading scheme, ensuring all employees received equal pay for work of equal value, it also highlighted historical inequalities in pay. In this case, claimants would rely on their new grading as evidence of equal value work pre-implementation, seeking to recover the difference.
Many authorities have now implemented Single Status so the question is: has the equal pay risk been eliminated? The short answer is no. There are a number of reasons for this including:
• The Supreme Court decision in Birmingham City Council v Abdulla , which allows employees to bring equal pay claims in the civil courts within six years of the end of their employment or from a trigger event. This has opened up the floodgates for claims which would have previously been out of time.
• Certain employees, such as craft workers, do not come within the ambit of Single Status and will therefore continue to sit as a potential comparator group for equal pay claimants. Many of these employees earn bonus schemes and the roles tend to be male dominated, so the claims may have a foundation.
• Where schools’ based employees have not had their pay calculated on a pro rata basis in respect of the hours they actually work, this could give rise to a continuing equal pay risk.
• The recent case of Fox Cross & Others v Glasgow City Council highlights the risk of equal pay claims arising between those in Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) and the partner local authority. Where employees of the ALMO include male dominated bonus earners then this poses a particular risk.
• The transfer of public health workers to local authorities could also give rise to equal pay issues. Although there may be a TUPE defence, if there is an underlying sex taint, this may have a limited shelf life.
There are many claimant solicitors who have set up shop to target claimants who may be able to run the above arguments. They may well prove to be the catalysts for the continuing risk.