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Thousands of women school and nursery workers, care workers, caterers and cleaners in Glasgow are staging a two-day strike in the largest equal pay strike since the Equal Pay Act was passed.
Unison, one of the unions behind the strike, says around 8,000 women including school administration workers, learning support workers in schools, nursery workers, home carers, cleaners, caterers and other council workers are taking action over the city council’s failure to settle a long-standing equal-pay dispute. The strike is being supported by unofficial action by hundreds of male refuse workers.
Unison says it will ensure there is cover for services helping vulnerable people. It states that strike action organising by Unison and the GMB is due to a lack of progress on the council’s part with addressing legal rulings in favour of equal pay. Susan Aitken, the council’s leader, however, says that the strike is unnecessary as much progress has been made since the SNP took over. For instance, she says the council has brought many outsourced jobs back under full council control and harmonised pay.
Unison disputes this. Unison Glasgow chair Mary Dawson said: “We have given the council 10 months to make progress on addressing the historical discrimination suffered by these workers.
“However, the council has agreed nothing, offered nothing and all we have had are meetings about meetings and talks about talks. It’s time for some action.”
The cost of the settling outstanding claims is estimated to be around £500m to £1bn.
Unions claim support for the strike is high. In September, a Unison ballot of nearly 3,000 education workers saw a 90% vote for strike action. A second Unison ballot of more than 2,000 home carers, school cleaners and caterers.
A GMB ballot of outsourced workers for Cordia resulted in 98% backing for strike action.
The equal pay case has been going on for over 10 years. Glasgow council introduced a new pay and grading scheme in 2006, which aimed to put an end to pay inequality based on gender. However, it included protections lasting three years for bonuses paid to men.
That prompted employment tribunal cases arguing that it was both unfair and unlawful to continue pay discrimination for three years after the new scheme was put into place.
At the same time, the scheme itself gave rise to employment tribunal claims that it was itself discriminatory. It was argued that women in traditionally female jobs – people such as caterers, cleaners and care assistants – found they were being paid less per hour than men in jobs such as refuse collection.
Cordia, which was created to provide care for more than 80,000 vulnerable people as well as catering and cleaning in the city’s schools, has been the subject of its own equal pay claims.