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Equal pay delays 'unacceptable'

10 June 09 12:53 GMT

A Scottish Parliament committee has attacked an "unacceptable" delay in implementing equal pay in councils.

The local government committee said there were 35,000 outstanding tribunal cases, despite the single status agreement having been reached in 1999.

It has called on ministers to set up talks between local authorities, unions and lawyers to resolve the problem.

Council umbrella body Cosla said equal pay was the biggest challenge facing authorities in more than 10 years.

The single status agreement was reached to resolve long-standing differences in local government salaries.

But several legal rulings and other delays have led to a large number of workers, many of them low-paid women employees, taking equal pay cases to employment tribunals.

Scotland's largest public sector union, Unison, accused the Scottish Government of failing to do enough to resolve the issue, but ministers insisted that it was up to councils.

Local authorities are facing an estimated claims compensation bill ranging from £340m to £1bn, according to the local government committee.

Its convener, Labour MSP Duncan McNeil, said: "Quite frankly, the delays in implementing single status are unacceptable and many of the problems we're dealing with today could have been avoided through earlier resolution.

"The current litigious situation is most regrettable. It has created caution in all parties that serves no-one well, least of all the claimants, who are mostly low-paid, female workers.

"While we recognise it is difficult, we firmly believe that every effort should be made to reach a negotiated settlement."

MSPs on the cross-party committee also called on individual tribunal cases trying to decide on compensation levels to be settled immediately.

They want more done to stop new cases arising in the future, as well as the introduction of annual equal pay audits for councils.

'Delay and denial'

Cosla human resources spokesman Michael Cook said people on all sides of the issue were having to grapple with unprecedented and unforseen legal and organisational challenges.

"There is agreement right across Scotland that the implementation of the single status agreement, with its attendant equal pay obligations, is probably the single biggest most complex challenge faced by councils since reorganisation in 1996," he said.

All but six of Scotland's 32 councils have brought in the agreement, with the remainder due to complete the process in 2009.

Unison regional organiser Peter Hunter said: "The Scottish Government has sat on the sidelines throughout this process, but the time has come for them to step up to the plate.

"There was no financial provision for equal pay in the last SNP budget, but the evidence of the last 10 years shows that delay and denial only escalate equal pay costs."

A Scottish Government spokesman said equal pay in councils was a matter for individual local authorities.

Ministers said any scheme to help councils would need to be based on need and backed up by "a strong business case".

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