Trade unions and employers have launched a blistering attack on so-called no-win, no-fee lawyers, accusing them of hijacking local government equal pay negotiations.
Employers’ organisations have branded the lawyers “the biggest threat” to achieving harmonious settlements during an equal pay crisis that is threatening to overwhelm councils.
More than 5,000 claims have been made against local authorities in the North East alone, resulting in compensation in excess of £100m.
Speaking at an equal pay conference in London last week, Mick Brodie, director of the North East Regional Employers Organisation, warned: “No-win, no-fee claims for equal pay is not a North East problem – it’s a national one.”
Unions have particularly targeted Stefan Cross, a solicitor based in Newcastle, who has represented hundreds of women working for councils as cleaners, carers and clerical staff in the North East and in Scotland. Cross said he had more than 20,000 cases on his books in Scotland alone, with the potential for another 50,000. Each claimant could receive between £15,000 and £20,000.
Brian Strutton, national secretary at the GMB union, said: “Stefan Cross is not interested in achieving equal pay going forward, but only in making a fast buck from back-pay awards.”
Public sector union Unison has reminded its members in Scotland that lawyers such as Cross are “in business to make money”.
But Cross said employers and unions were conniving to withhold thousands of pounds in back pay legally due to women workers.
“Deals are being negotiated between male union reps and male employers, and female workers are being kept in the dark,” he told Personnel Today. “Women have been discriminated against in local government for 30 years and these people are only interested in maintaining the status quo.”
His comments come a fortnight after Local Government Employers warned that local authorities may collectively end up paying as much as £5bn in back pay to female workers.
By Natalie Cooper and Ross Bentley