Council HR chiefs urged to tackle pay disparities to avoid ending up in court

Council HR directors have been urged to take swift action to try to prevent the growing number of equal pay cases taken up by no-win no-fee lawyers.

Carol Mills, HR director at Lancashire County Council, said HR directors needed to identify pay disparities and work closely with employees to resolve the issues.

Her comments come as the council faces a mass revolt over pay and conditions – 483 workers are taking bosses to tribunals in a dispute over money they say is owed to them, backdated for six years following the council’s job evaluation.

The majority of claims appeared to be on the basis that women were not paid a bonus when comparable men were.

So far, 9,038 staff have accepted compensation at a cost of £16m, and council bosses are in talks with 222 more staff who have lodged ‘grievances’ in a bid to stop their claims going to official hearings.

Mills told Personnel Today: “What we are currently experiencing in Lancashire reflects what is happening nationally. All councils putting in place equal pay have had to deal with legal cases taken up by no-win, no-fee lawyers, such as the highly publicised Stefan Cross cases.”

“The task for HR directors is to look to identify if any pay and conditions disproportionally apply to one group of employees or another, examine the reasons why and, if there is no justification for the disparity, to address the issue.

“We are one of the largest authorities in the country and putting equal pay in place for more than 25,000 staff is a huge task.”

The nation-wide problem is expected to cost local authorities £1bn in compensation payments, according to Jon Sutcliffe, principle strategic adviser at Local Government Employers.

He added that 30% of councils were involved in similar tribunal cases, with bonus payments issues the most common.

Tom Flanagan, partner in law firm Pinsent Masons, pointed out that claims against local authorities by no-win no-fee lawyers were “becoming quite common”.

He said: “We advise employers [private and public sector] to do a private audit of historical pay structures. Look at why things are the way they are, what the history is.

“Work out if there are different pay structures in different parts of the business, who is responsible for pay and how differences arise. Once they have got to the stage of identifying how structures are made up, talk to their in-house legal department or talk to us to get legal advice on how the structure should look.”

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