Equal pay row ups pressure on council industrial relations

Industrial relations between local authorities and unions are becoming increasingly fraught as the equal pay crisis threatens to overwhelm local councils, senior figures have warned.

Trade unions ramped up the pressure last week by holding a mass lobby of parliament, demanding extra cash be set aside to meet a final pay bill that could hit £5bn. The rally was held to mark the 10-year anniversary of the single-status agreement, which committed councils to ending pay discrimination.

More than two-thirds of authorities have yet to introduce new structures.

A key problem is that agreements are being unpicked by no-win, no-fee lawyers at tribunals, using rights under European law.
Employers want the government to review the situation urgently and introduce new legislation to protect councils and give collective agreements more chance of success.

Stephen Moir, lead on equal pay at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, warned that industrial relations were becoming strained. “Tensions are increasing between employers and unions because of equal pay and the pressure unions are coming under from their membership [to resolve the issue],” he told Personnel Today.

Added to this was the fact a national pay settlement for local government workers had yet to be agreed, and negotiations over pension changes were ongoing.

“Relations are much more tense than they have been for some time,” Moir said. “These are national issues that are tying the hands of local employers and HR professionals.”

Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers, said: “Employers don’t want to end up in a position where the only way to resolve anything with the unions is through the courts.”

Last week, trade union Unison launched legal action against councils in Wales on behalf of thousands of female workers.

Call for equal pay code of practice

A code of practice for negotiations on equal pay should be developed, according to Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers. Tribunals could then take this into account when hearing cases, and it would prevent collective deals being unpicked by no-win, no-fee lawyers, she said.

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