Council HR departments could find their bonus scheme arrangements scrutinised in the wake of the Birmingham City Council equal pay case and are being advised to “look carefully” at the plans they have in place.
Up to 5,000 female workers, including cleaners, care assistant and cooks, brought a case against the council after they were not paid bonuses that were offered to male grave diggers and refuse collectors, allowing the men to earn more than £50,000 a year.
On Monday, an employment tribunal found the bonuses discriminatory because they were rewarding male workers for doing their jobs properly, and the women now look set to receive a share of payouts worth millions of pounds.
Tim Clark, a partner at law firm Blandy and Blandy, warned the case will now cast such schemes in the spotlight and encouraged HR departments to be on their guard.
“This is opening up the prospect of people examining things like bonus schemes,” he told Personnel Today.
“The answer is to look very carefully at the arrangements you’ve got in place. Although arrangements within a given council may be different from another, it is quite likely that any sort of arrangement is going to be scrutinised very carefully and other employee groups and unions will be looking closely at arrangements in councils.”
A Unison spokeswoman agreed. “Councils have to face facts and start looking at their pay systems and ensure they are fair and equal. HR and the councils should get involved in constructive negotiations with unions. It’s much more productive to get involved in constructive negotiations and to resolve these claims without dragging them out through the courts.”
Councillor Alan Rudge, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for equalities and human resources, said the case considered by the employment tribunal related to the old pay and grading structure – in particular the outdated bonus systems.
He added that action was taken to remove the inappropriate bonus schemes and implement a revised pay and grading structure in 2007,
“It is too early to determine financial implications and, currently, consideration is being given as to whether there are grounds for appeal on any aspects of the decision,” he said.