Former Birmingham City Council boss accused of ‘fireproofing’ bonuses

A former Birmingham City Council boss has been accused of “fireproofing” bonuses for male employees so they wouldn’t lose them when an equal pay initiative was enforced, an employment tribunal heard.


Margaret Wells, former assistant director of Trading Services, had transferred the bonuses enjoyed by cemetery operatives as part of a modernisation of the authority’s Bereavement Service, so as not to lose them when the Single Status initiative took effect, it is claimed.


Speaking at a tribunal where more than 4,000 council employees, predominantly women, are fighting for compensation over equal pay, Wells said she and other managers had attended several meetings on equal pay years before the implementation of the Single Status agreement, the Birmingham Post reports.


“We were looking at how and where the bonuses existed and dealing with them in relation to equal pay,” she said.


But Daphne Romney QC, representing the claimants, said: “You were not looking for where the bonuses were – you knew where they were in 1989. What they were looking at was how to keep them in such a way that they would not be lost in future under Single Status.


“Part of the concept of redesign was to fireproof the men’s pay, because you knew at some point the implementation of Single Status would remove the bonus.”


Ms Romney QC also accused the authority of misleading the public on the subject of bonuses for workers in Bereavement Services. “In order to keep your men on bonuses, you were told that bonuses should not be called bonuses. In 2004 [following a review of the service] you called it basic pay, even though it was 40% higher than the previous wage.”


Last year the authority adopted the Single Status agreement in a bid to remove discrepancies in wages and enhancements between men and women.


Lawyers claim that for many years workers in male-dominated posts, such as grave digging, gardening and refuse collection, were paid bonuses for work equal to that delivered by cleaners, care workers and teaching assistants who were not paid bonuses.


Legal experts are now seeking up to £100,000 compensation for each client in back-dated bonus payments.


The tribunal continues.

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