Over 2,500 Birmingham local government workers gathered last week at one of the biggest trade union mass meetings for years.
The crowd met at Birmingham City football ground to discuss resistance to the Tory-Lib Dem council’s plans to impose the single status deal – one of many such deals causing turmoil and uproar across Britain.
In Birmingham, as elsewhere, large sections of the workforce face pay cuts in order to fund equal pay for women who have suffered years of gender-based discrimination.
At the same time the city council is refusing to give the women the full six years’ back pay they are entitled to.
Instead the council is dangling cheques in front of low paid workers and asking them to sign away their rights to claim more.
Last week’s brilliant mass meeting brought together people from many sections and sent us away united in the battle to push for full back pay, and no losers in the rest of the workforce.
Our Unison union assistant branch secretary Caroline Johnson said, “How can it be right that in 2007 we still don’t earn equal pay for equal work?
“But this isn’t just a fight that benefits women.
“My partner is a welder in a factory and he doesn’t benefit from the fact that I’m paid less than men. Equal pay for women benefits us all.
“It’s clear that instead of bringing women’s pay up the level of men’s, the council want to cut everyone’s money.
“Nobody should lose money to pay for equal pay, because nobody here today is responsible for women not getting equal pay in the past.”
She added that proper job evaluation wouldn’t just look at how council workers’ jobs compare, but would ask why a tiny group of City financiers could grab £8.8 billion in Christmas bonuses.
She attacked the council’s spending priorities, but added, “As a branch we have campaigned for government money and we need to continue that.
“The banks have just made record profits of £40 billion – why can’t the government bring in another windfall tax like they did a few years ago?”
Heather Wakefield, national secretary of Unison’s local government service group, had to promise us, “We won’t stand by and watch the employer shit on you in the single status process.”
Perhaps the most impressive speech came from Sarah, a home care worker, who said she had been offered a cheque for £32,750 to cover years of discrimination.
But she was not accepting it because she was owed £58,000 – and she was going to fight for it.
We voted to use methods such as mass litigation to press for our rights, but also to be ready to strike if necessary.
On Monday we’ll be demonstrating outside the council cabinet meeting that will take the decisions over the next stage of single status.
This issue is going to be a big part of the May council elections. The only party that has supported us is Respect.
Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob has said, “This injustice has gone on too long. There is no excuse for not implementing equal pay. Although the council is the employer, the government has to recognise the extra costs on local authorities.
“If the government can find billions of pounds to fight disastrous wars, and billions more to replace Trident nuclear weapons, it can find extra money to end this pay injustice.”
Respect councillor Abdul Aziz adds, “Women deserve the full recompense for years of discrimination, but others should not face pay cuts.
“Council leaders are prepared to hire extra managers on big salaries, but won’t give the money to those who deliver the services.”
Single status is hitting workers across Britain. Birmingham – with a council workforce of 38,000 – is a key case which everyone is watching. We need to fight and win.
A Birmingham Unison union member
Unions have suspended all industrial action in their dispute with Falkirk council over the single status pay deal.
The council has agreed to look again at the new pay and terms and conditions package imposed by Falkirk council last year.
The GMB and T&G unions had been due to call members out on strike last week but after both sides agreed to talks last Friday, they put the industrial action on hold.
Now the GMB has agreed to suspend all action until an equality impact assessment has been carried out jointly by the trade unions and the council.
Senior GMB local government organiser Alex McLuckie said, “This agreement opens up negotiations and goes a long way to resolving our dispute.
Unison is still holding a consultative ballot over further industrial action.
Proposals are emerging for an alternative pay system for Staffordshire County Council workers to replace the single status package junked in January.
The initial “job evaluation” scheme would have seen 8,000 of the Labour-controlled council’s 28,000 workers face pay cuts.
The proposals, which would have seen some staff lose thousands of pounds, were dropped after a series of protests and demonstrations.
The unions say they want a structure that will ensure workers whose pay drops are placed on higher point scales to meet any shortfall.
The number of workers expected to lose out in the new proposals is apparently now set to be about 4,200.
Union officials have held top-level talks over the on-going single status pay dispute with Coventry council.
Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis met with Coventry branch members to offer support in their fight for equal pay.
Prentis will call on the government to make provision in the budget for about £3 billion of funding nationally for the implementation of single status and equal pay.
Prentis said he is also planning a national lobby of parliament later in the year to raise the issue of equal pay, and case studies such as Coventry, with MPs across Britain.