Equal pay councils may have little choice but to fight claims

Revelations by local government trade union Unison that councils are spending millions fighting equal pay claims prompted an employment lawyer to comment that many have little choice in the matter.

Pam Loch, founder of Loch Associates, said: “Challenging claims for equal pay may, on the surface, appear to be a costly and wasteful exercise, but councils must ensure each equal pay claim is justified. For every equal pay claim accepted the taxpayer’s bill could be affected or less money may be available for other services.

“While a large proportion of the claims are likely to be valid, there is no escaping the fact that there are some individuals who may simply be jumping on the band-wagon, and councils would not be acting in the best interests of the public if they did not seek full legal advice and defend claims if necessary.

She added that councils should consider mediation at an early stage, which could save litigation costs and achieve an effective early settlement.

Meanwhile, also commenting on the Unison research, London Metropolitan University employment relations lecturer Brian Critchley said: “One of the more shocking things to come out of this exercise is the total lack of coherence among councils on their policy towards equal pay.

“There appears to be no connection between allocation of resources and potential equal pay liabilities. It seems that some councils would rather defend the status quo than face the inevitable.”

Spend on external legal advice and representation in fighting equal pay cases ranged from £1.32m at Sandwell to £53,422.83 at Southampton. Leeds City Council, which has faced a long-running refuse collectors’ strike over equal pay, has spent £1,17m (including £298,648 on external costs) fighting equal pay claims, said Unison.

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