More than 4,000 female council workers have won the right to be paid the same as male colleagues in a test case that could lead to pay-outs of £200 million.
Following a seven week hearing, a Birmingham Employment Tribunal found in favour of the women, employed by Birmingham City Council in 49 different roles ranging from lollipop ladies to nursery workers. The women had complained of being excluded from bonuses, worth up to 160% of their basic pay, which were offered to male counterparts on the same pay grade.
As a result, in one year, a male refuse collector was paid £51,000 while equivalent female personnel received less than £12,000. In other cases, selective pay rises and incentives meant that men earned more than one and a half times the salary of women colleagues on the same level.
Stefan Cross, whose law firm represented 900 of the women, said that the case was indicative of 20 years of sex discrimination by councils across the country.
He told the Times newspaper: “Birmingham’s defence is that the men’s jobs are harder, the men are special. Inequalities exist even with authorities who have the most perfect equal opportunities policies. If you genuinely believe that a home carer is equivalent to a refuse collector, you should reflect this.”
His colleague Paul Savage told the Birmingham Post, meanwhile, that the Council’s payout bill was likely to be about £200 million – although if a further 20,000 women from its 57,000-strong workforce also lodged claims, the figure could hit £1 billion.
The Tribunal will now assess the level of awards to be made to complainants, although the Council is currently evaluating whether to appeal the decision.
Dave Prentice, general secretary at the Unison union, which had supported the women, called on the local authority to pay up.
“For too long, Birmingham City Council has failed to live up to its responsibilities to pay these women workers fairly,” he said. “This has cost council tax payers’ huge amounts of money in legal fees. This money would have been better spent on providing vital local services, many of which are facing damaging cuts.”