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Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Equal pay? - Or pay cuts?

Len Tingle
Politics Show Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

After fighting for equal pay for years some female council workers in Yorkshire are now finding that their pay is being CUT to ensure their employers don't fall foul of the law.

Michelle Brindley says she already struggles to make ends meet on her wage of £17,000. That is why she takes a calculator, and lots of hidden anxiety, on the weekly shop.

For some low-paid women workers, the push for equal pay could mean an even lower wage.

Money worries - and a massive sense of betrayal - are what lie behind her anguish.

That's because the special school teaching assistant is one of hundreds of Sheffield Council workers losing up to £5,000 a year in their wage packet despite already being on a low wage.

And it's all in the name of equal pay.

Equal to whom?

The council blames government workplace legislation going back a decade which demands that similar jobs are paid at the same rate.

Equal pay across the board is the goal, says the Liberal Democrat-run administration in Sheffield, which is anxious to avoid costly legal action if anomalies in its pay structure are uncovered.

Cases concerning pay inequalities have mushroomed in recent years.

Deputy leader of Sheffield Council David Baker says

"The Labour government has forced us into this. And it is right that there is equal pay for equal work. Jobs have been assessed and grouped into "families" of similar jobs.

Councillor, David Baker, Deputy leader of Sheffield City Council
Councillor, David Baker, says the changes have been forced by the Government

"The jobs have been grouped within the families, and the pay has been evaluated. My heart truly goes out to those who have lost out, but we are working with those suffering big losses."

Most workers' wages either increase or stay the same, he adds.

"Similar jobs?"

But it's the way jobs have been evaluated that concerns Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith.

She claims she is still struggling to find out the detail from the council of the methodology and the long-term costs or savings

She has been told that that achieving parity across the board in this way in Sheffield - as senior managers have assessed it - will cost the authority £2m more a year.

Angela Smith Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough
Angela Smith MP for says it is ironic that equal pay should lead to wage cuts

But Ms Smith adds: "It's absolutely ironic. This goes back ten years. What the government said to the councils back then was look at the issue of equal pay between men and women.

Now the way Sheffield Council have gone about it, the impact is that women workers, the lowest paid, are the worst affected."

Winners and losers

Anomalies where low-paid women have lost pay, as in Michelle Brindley's case, have emerged across the country.

But a spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission added.

"This is not a reason to stop these good faith exercises.

"It can't be used as an excuse as there will be huge benefits right across the country - the aim is a good and admirable one."

Michelle, who will end up on a wage of £14,000 in the job she's done for 25 years, doesn't quite see it that way.

Her job involves standing in for teachers. She has been hospitalised by violent pupils, and comforts grieving parents.

"I have worked with this council now for 25 years. I feel that I have given them all my loyalty I have been a very good member of staff, and I am just devastated."

Clare Frisby presents The Politics Show for Yorkshire Lincolnshire and the North Midlands Sundays from 1200 GMT on BBC One.

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