Thousands of new equal pay claims could be lodged against local authorities and the NHS in addition to those already in the system, thanks to a landmark court ruling.
In the consolidated cases of Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council v Bainbridge and others, and Middlesbrough Borough Council v Surtee and others, the Court of Appeal ruled this morning that both councils’ pay protection schemes were unlawful because they reinforced inequality among men and women in the workplace.
A judge ruled that transitional arrangements protecting male workers’ pay – even while measures were put in place to bring comparable female workers’ pay up to the same level – were discriminatory.
In this case, Bainbridge and her colleagues argued not that pay protection was wrong, but that they should also have benefited from it, since, had they have been paid equally to men in the first place, they too would have suffered a loss of income and would have been entitled to pay protection.
Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough Councils argued unsuccessfully that they should be allowed to provide pay protection to their male employees regardless of the discriminatory background to the payments.
Barrister Rachel Crasnow of law firm Cloisters said: “The court’s ruling that discriminatory pay protection is unlawful could pave the way for thousands of new equal pay claims against local authorities and the NHS.”
She added: “The introduction of a new regime of terms and conditions, called the green book, led to the abolition of various bonuses which were mainly paid to male groups of workers. Once the bonuses were removed, many councils introduced pay protection as a ‘soft landing’ to cushion the blow.
“But this form of pay protection actually reinforced the pre-existing sex discrimination in the workplace because it meant that male employees were, in effect, receiving the same discriminatory bonuses just under a different label. In essence, the women are being discriminated against again.”
Earlier this month the Appeal Court also ruled that the GMB union indirectly discriminated against female workers at Middlesbrough Borough Council when it prioritised pay protection for men over obtaining back-pay for female members in the earlier stages of the equal pay saga. Lawyers said the ruling meant such claims were less likely to be settled out of court.