Thousands of low paid women are celebrating in Glasgow this week after receiving details of their equal pay settlements.
Some 14,000 council workers—predominantly women—fought for 12 years against a discriminatory pay scheme.
They’ve been underpaid for so long that many will now receive tens of thousands of pounds.
Glasgow council wanted to keep their unequal pay scales. The fight against them languished in union vacillations and legal shenanigans (see right). Some 170 women died before they got pay justice.
Workers fought a Labour-run council for a decade. When the Scottish National Party (SNP) took minority control of the council in May 2017, it promised to resolve the dispute.
But the SNP administration, led by Susan Aitken, abandoned negotiations. A 48-hour strike in October last year brought the city to its knees and the council to the negotiating table.
Unison union steward Ingrid Bain told Socialist Worker, “Had we not come out on strike we would never have got this amount of money.”
Courts had ruled that the council’s pay scales were discriminatory. But workers still had to strike to get the money they were owed.
Ingrid said strikes were key to causing the council to “bottle it”.
“Aitken thought she would get away with a couple of grand and a carrot at Christmas time,” said Ingrid. “But then she got over 8,000 women screaming at her front door.”
Unison steward Lyn Marie O’Hara told Socialist Worker, “For claimants 12 years is a long time. Five years is a long time. A year is a long time if your pay isn’t right.
“It’s not greed, it’s about valuing your workforce.”
Hundreds of other council workers refused to cross strikers’ picket lines and took action in solidarity. Lyn Marie said, “Bus drivers were refusing to take bus fares off people. Bin men came out and no one got punished for it.”
Around 200 claimants who owe the council money won’t get a penny because their debts outstrip their settlement. Others who receive over £16,000 will have their Employment and Support Allowance stopped.
But for many the settlements are life changing.
Ingrid has worked as a cleaning supervisor and catering assistant for 23 years.
She said her offer left her weeping, feeling “over the moon” and ready to book a family holiday to Jamaica. Others can make big changes that they couldn’t make before. “You hear of people clearing their debts and people leaving their husbands,” said Ingrid.
Lyn Marie said it’s not just the settlement that has changed people, but the experience of fighting back.
“During the strike it was the workers in charge,” she said. “People want to talk about our strike—I say take it back to your workmates.
“Tell them to become members of a trade union, campaigners, strikers and winners.”
‘It’s a totally different workforce since our strikes’
Glasgow women have won a stunning victory—but the story is far from over.
A new pay scheme is yet to be put in place.
Ingrid will be involved in building a new job evaluation scheme.
This should see all workers’ responsibilities finally being recognised. Ingrid said, “In home care, the job has changed.
“Workers use hoists, bath people and do peg feeding, where a tube is put into someone’s stomach.” The re-evaluation is a chance to take other things, such as unsocial hours, into account too.
Some staff work early shifts due to childcare. Ingrid said, “I get up at 4am to go to work at 5am.
“Management say we could choose to work later, but the majority of women have got kids they need to get to school.”
The re-evaluation is set to start this month and is expected to take two years to come into effect.
The current settlement doesn’t take into account any work after March 2018. So workers are set to receive a further backpay settlement.
The council shouldn’t use the re-evaluation as an excuse to use levelling-up some roles as an excuse to cut others’ pay.
And council bosses should be wary about delaying.
Ingrid said, “Workers have realised what they can do when they band together. It’s a totally different workforce than before the strike.
“You ask everyone if they’d fight again—they’d do it tomorrow and the council knows that.”
How did the council rip off women workers?
The Glasgow dispute is part of a series of “single status” battles across Britain.
Most councils adopt pay scales that are nationally agreed with unions, but Glasgow created its own—the Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR).
It came into force in 2006 and saw jobs predominantly done by women graded at a rate of up to £3 an hour lower than jobs done by men.
And the WPBR excluded part time workers—the vast majority of whom are women—from receiving bonuses.
It also meant some men lost out on bonuses. But they were given three-year payment protection—the women weren’t.
Workers initially challenged this through individual employment tribunals.
In August 2017 the Court of Session ruled that the WPBR discriminated against women workers.
But it took collective action by thousands of workers to get the WPBR thrown out and to win back pay.