Equal pay windfall proves divisive for NHS trust staff

A £100m equal pay settlement in the NHS has caused problems with staff morale, performance and retention, as well as financial difficulties for the hospital trust involved.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Shirley Chipperfield, HR director at North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said there were several senior nursing staff not covered by the deal who are “very disappointed”.

Angry nurses at West Cumberland Hospital said they had been “forgotten” in the multi-million pound deal and have written to their union, Unison, to ask for further action.

In April, 1,500 female hospital workers accepted an offer which will compensate them for up to 14 years of NHS pay rates which had unfairly favoured men.

The trust’s annual budget last year was £156m, and the Department of Health has offered to help with payments as the amounts involved are so large. In some cases, trust employees could receive a final payment of up to £300,000.

“The key problems are yet to come as staff start to receive payments and are working side by side with those who have received nothing,” said Chipperfield.

“We do not know at this stage how many staff will choose to leave or retire early, which could create recruitment problems for us,” she said.

This year’s NHS staff survey also showed that hospital workers in North Cumbria felt stressed because of the changes taking place within the health service.

Marie Burnham, the trust’s chief executive, admitted that the previous 12 months had been upsetting because of the equal-value claims and re-evaluation of job roles under the Agenda for Change programme.

New research from Personnel Today’s sister publication IRS Employment Review shows that the majority of organisations still have no plans to do anything about equal pay, despite it being “an important priority”.

One focus group participant – who was aware that there might be an issue in his organisation – had put off conducting an audit because it could potentially open a “can of worms”.

For the full interview, go to www.personneltoday.com/indepth

Equality chief says equal pay law doesn’t work

Julie Mellor, outgoing chair at the Equal Opportunities Commission, told Personnel Today that current equal pay legislation doesn’t work and needed to be reformed.

“We have to make sure the legislation doesn’t act as a disincentive to employers. It must be helpful rather than prohibitive,” she said.

Mellor said the main problems with the current legislation were that cases took too long to resolve and the fact that a case win won’t always benefit other women in the same position in the same organisation.

Equal pay legislation also concentrates on pay discrimination, such as occupational segregation, which leads to swathes of women congregating in areas of the labour market which are “traditionally” underpaid, said Mellor.

For more of Mellor’s views go to www.personneltoday.com/29979.article

How hospital staff in Cumbria won £100m

Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, employees have a right to the same contractual pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex in the same employment, work rated as equivalent under an analytical job evaluation study, or work that is proved to be of equal value.

Under the terms of the Cumbria deal, all 1,500 women who lodged a claim will receive:

– back pay equivalent to what was paid to higher paid male comparators

– cash to cover the better shift rates paid to men

– interest at 7.85% a year to compensate for the delay in getting the money

– ‘future pay’ supplements to top up wages until their wage equals that of the male comparator.

Every worker who has made a claim will be able to backdate it by six years for the difference in their pay to that of their comparator. For those who lodged claims in 1997, that will mean back pay dating to 1991. The deal also compensates women for the lower overtime rates paid to women for unsocial hours.

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