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UNISON is claiming victory in an equal pay case taken out by 251 women classroom assistants, learning assistants and nursery nurses in Dumfries and Galloway.
The Supreme Court ruled today that bonuses given to men doing jobs such as refuse collection and driving were discriminatory because they were denied to women working in similar jobs which were based in schools.
Scottish councils had argued that women should only get equal pay compensation if they worked in the same location as their male comparators.
UNISON says its members can expect to share in an estimated £12 million in lost pay. The case has lasted for seven years.
UNISON had appealed the case after the Court of Session said the classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses in Dumfries were not able to compare themselves with groundsmen, refuse collectors and drivers and leisure attendants who received bonuses, but were based at depots, not in the women’s schools.
It adds that the decision also opens the way for thousands of workers in arms length companies to compare pay rates between different employers if the council has the overriding ability to control how these subsidiaries operate.
UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis said: “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 judgement.
“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 has been fantastic and winning today will also help women in the future who want to compare themselves with men working from different places for the same employer.”
UNISON now plans to work with Dumfries and Galloway Council and the other councils on other outstanding cases.
Dumfries and Galloway Council issued a statement, saying the case was “complex” and that the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Session had previously found in its favour.
“The Supreme Court judgment is the most recent stage of the legal process,” it stated. “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. Our council will now consider its position in response to the Supreme Court judgment.”