Glasgow Council Equal Pay Dispute – The story the media isn’t telling you

A guest post from a reader.

There was a brief discussion on the Glasgow Council equal pay dispute this weekend on Radio Scotland.  Employment, Discrimination & Healthcare Lawyer Jillian Merchant complained at what she saw was a lack of coverage of the issue in the Sunday newspapers.


What Merchant appeared to be referring to was the lack of coverage of the forthcoming strike threat to be held on October 23rd and 24th.  Whether the strike actually goes ahead remains to be seen.

In terms of overall coverage though, the dispute between women who have been historically poorly paid and the council administration, has enjoyed considerable coverage in recent months.  Newspapers and broadcasters have given multiple column inches and lengthy airtime to the story.

However where the media has failed in its role to inform the public is in its refusal to explain the historic cause of the problem and the roles played by key actors.  Those key actors are of course the Labour party in Glasgow and trade unions.

Trade unions have though played a key part in recent media coverage.  One recent item on Reporting Scotland featured an official from the GMB.  Below is a clip of Rhea Wolfson.

Wolfson says: “They [women] have suffered a decade of institutionalised discrimination …”

And it’s true.  The women who are threatening to go on strike have indeed suffered a decade of institutionalised discrimination.  They have been discriminated against by the Labour party and … trade unions.

Labour was in control of Glasgow Council up until last year when the SNP finally reversed a decade of Labour dominance in the city.

It was Labour that – in consultation with trade unions in 2006 – introduced the wage structure that led to decades of discrimination.

Rhea Wolfson, as well as being an official with one of those trade unions, is also an election candidate for … the Scottish Labour Party.  Wolfson stood for Labour in the 2017 general election campaign and has been selected as Labour’s Livingston candidate for the next general election.

Below is Wolfson just over two months after she was defeated in the 2017 general election.  She is attacking council leader Susan Aitken whose SNP group wrenched control of the local authority from Labour four months earlier and set about ending the ‘decade of institutionalised discrimination’ caused by Wolfson’s party.

This is the information that the media isn’t reporting.  That women were discriminated against isn’t in doubt.  But the roles played by Labour and trade unions is being airbrushed out of media coverage.

It’s only when you look back at this issue that you find out just how culpable trade unions themselves were in the creation of this whole mess.  Writing on his Action4Equality blog back in 2007, Mark Irvine wrote the following:

The position in Glasgow is repeated across Scotland – lots of people with substantial equal pay claims have been deliberately kept in the dark by the employers – why else is a nursery nurse paid so much less than a council tradesman?


The trade unions keep quiet as well because the truth is that they have been asleep on the job – and they are now worried that their own members are holding the unions to account by suing for the money low paid union members have lost, as a result of the union’s negligence and poor advice.


In the run up to Xmas 2005, the council (aided and abetted by the unions) tried to ‘buy out’ people’s equal pay claims on the cheap – by offering one-off cash payments instead of the back pay employees were really entitled to receive.

Irvine added:

There have been lots of calls in the past 24 hours from workers in Glasgow – who are worried about signing the new contract proposed by the council. The trade unions are again doing the council’s dirty work by refusing to give their members proper advice – and sitting on the fence.

In a Q&A section on the same blog, Irvine wrote:

Can I sue the trade unions?
Yes, if you are a trade union member – you must also be pursuing a claim against your employer as well. The reason being that the unions deliberately kept their members in the dark over equal pay for many years – and when the going got rough, they often sided with the council employers and helped to cheat their own members out of the back pay they were entitled to receive.

In 2015 the Herald newspaper reported: “ONE of Scotland’s biggest trade unions faces being sued by its own members after they missed out on years of back pay in a long-running legal battle.

“Hundreds of low-paid female council workers have missed out on as much as £10,000 after the GMB agreed a settlement on historic equal pay claims vastly inferior to that negotiated by other trade unions and legal firms.”

The issue related to low paid women workers at North Lanarkshire council.

In March 2007, Glasgow home helper Margaret Lynch, speaking to the Sunday Herald, said: “I loved my job but the council stabbed me in the back,

“It’s more of an insult to my intelligence than anything else and I said no, no, no. It was the simple principle of the matter.”

She added: “There is no point banging on the council door as you are only a number at the end of the day. I blame the unions too. They didn’t inform us when they knew what was going on. I have worked a long time and I went through hard years bringing up a family of five. If you do an honest day’s work then you are entitled to an honest day’s pay.”

The aforementioned Mark Irvine, who was a former head of local government with Unison, criticised the union’s involvement. The newspaper reported that 3500 people were sueing their own unions for failing to tell them about their entitlement.

Irvine said unions should have registered claims far more quickly, and added: “We have all these right-on, progressive councillors and trade union people who have known about this since 1999 and done nothing. There are about thousands of people saying to the trade unions, Why the hell did you not advise me about this?’

“The employers use dirty tricks like make one-off offers’ saying it won’t be here again. These are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, who understandably find it tough to hold out for what they are really entitled to.”

In March this year the GMB revealed it was pursuing its former legal advisor Digby Brown for damages over what the union claimed was negligent advice in relation to union members’ equal-pay claims.

Meanwhile what of the Scottish Labour Party which created the mess and let it drag on fo ten years wasting millions of pounds of public cash as it dragged through the courts?  Well, like their candidate for Livingston Rhea Wolfson, it decided the SNP council win in 2017 offered a political opportunity to rewrite history.  They blamed the SNP.

Media coverage of the Glasgow Council equal pay dispute has all but airbrushed out the behaviour of the previous Labour administrtion and the trade unions.  Meanwhile these same bodies are now scoring political points by exploiting the situation.

As Mark Irvine wrote last year:

The truth is that the pay arrangements judged to be ‘unfit for purpose’ by Scotland’s highest civl court, the Court of Session, were put in place by a Labour run council in 2007 with the support of the local Labour supporting unions: the GMB, Unison and Unite.

[…] But the old-fashioned Labour and trade union left has been ‘part of the problem’ over equal pay for years and it’s the absolute height of hypocrisy for them to try and lay the blame in Glasgow at the door of the SNP.

We can only hope the new SNP led administration will treat the council’s historically low paid female employees with more respect than the trade unions and the Scottish Labour Party.

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16 thoughts on “Glasgow Council Equal Pay Dispute – The story the media isn’t telling you

  1. Isabel Cooney

    Thanks for details of this saga. It’s really sad that trade unions are no longer trust worthy and have gone down the same road as Labour. When we are independent we must ensure that all these self servers are removed from office.

  2. Jon

    From a Union source, 50 lawyers are representing the women, at £90,000 per claim. So that’s more money the council will have to find thanks to the Union and Labour.

    This is a message that needs to be got out.

    1. Jon

      From the Scottish Labour Party website

      “In 1996 Richard took up the role of an organiser for the GMB union representing workers in manufacturing, commercial and public services”

  3. Robert Graham

    ahh gremlins in the works tried to post before but somehow twitter that i dont use managed to disappear my post .

    Of Course the scottish media will be all over this won’t they ? , oops that should have been of Course they won’t be all over this .

    This is going to be one almighty f/k up that cant be hidden it will get out .

    The same trick is being used to dupe the teachers ,the EIS have made a 10% claim , well done them , you would like to believe supposedly intelligent people would see they are being used in a wee political game by Labour ,

    The Labour party cant be elected at the ballot box , so other sleekit methods are being used , coincidently this started just after the Shop Steward had been elected , he brings all his failed experience to the table , this will not end well for him or the Unions involved , their methods are so transparent it’s laughable , this is not the 60s when big unions abused their power , this heralded in Thatcher and laws designed to limit their influence , the same Laws Tony Blair refused to remove i wonder why ,

  4. Robert Graham

    I just remembered an interview given by a English based rep of a big union ,I cant remember where it might have been the Canary , anyway he described the Scottish Government as professional and straightforward to deal with , this because they wanted to engage meaningfully with his union , this was totally different from the belligerent attitude he was used to with a Tory Government , this totally contradicts the shop stewards attitude up here , I hope Nicola Sturgeon highlights this difference in attitude being employed by this Labour party , a party who are activly cooperating with the Tory party in many councils , not to help people but to score points , it’s disgusting and they know know it spineless cowards .

  5. grizebard

    Union-led labour disputes are the last gasp of the Labour Party to discredit and displace the SNP wherever they govern, both in the Scottish Government and in local authorities. What Labour can’t achieve by offering fresh ideas to the electorate (because they have none) they are attempting to achieve by back-door trouble-making to cause disillusionment and disengagement.

    In regard to the Glasgow equal-pay dispute, Labour’s attempt to use their own longstanding bad behaviour as a stick with which to beat the current SNP administration is breathtaking in its cynicism and hypocrisy.

    At least one Tory councillor has also joined in, using weasel words in a flyer to imply the problem is somehow the SNP’s fault. Still all Better Together.

    I just feel sorry for all those women who are once again being used by their former long-term exploiters in consort with the partisan mainstream media.

    As for Labour, their corrosive mischief-making will not be forgotten, and will surely prove to be their final well-deserved damnation.

  6. Penguin

    The main point which is being missed in this sordid mess.


    Men and women in the same jobs were paid the same salary. This is nothing to do with sex-discrimination, apart from the usual attacks on men by misandrist harridans.

    In the CEC female cleaning staff were given their compensation payments to make up for being paid less than the binmen. The binmen (and certain other workers) had their pay cut and lost their historic bonuses. This is where pay protection came in.

    Funnily enough the male cleaning staff who were on exactly the same pay as the women were not given a penny in compensation.

    Why? Simples. The unions had launched their claims on the basis of sexual-discrimination. Men being paid less than other men clearly can never be down to said discrimination on the basis of sex and so… MEN WERE GIVEN LESS MONEY THAN WOMEN IN THE NAME OF EQUALITY! And these screeching harpies are still moaning 10 years later.

    Any sensible employer would just sack the lot of them and ban all trades unions and members thereof. A mob of thugs operating a protection racket being able to hold a city or even an entire country to ransom has never made any sense to me.

    As a council worker I’m due a 3% pay rise this year. The GMB are demanding more and preventing me from being paid my contractual salary. Is this even legal and why are they allowed to get away with it? I have colleagues to whom the extra money would make the difference between solvency and the end of the month overdraft. Where’s dick lennard and his class war when you need him?

    1. Munro Ross

      But men employed as carers would be the equal pay too as otherwise they could claim discrimination against them. This should have been done.

  7. Col

    Remember the BBC in Scotland did a documentary about PFI? They didn’t mention the labour party once if I remember correctly. As long as they act in such a blatant manner we have the opportunity to point out to folk just how corrupt the BBC is and how close they are to the labour party. Of course they share the same anti independence agenda. Labour hypocrisy still a sight to behold, they are truly shameless and I will never consider voting for them so long as even one of the current lot remains in the party.

  8. Mark Irvine

    If you want the inside story of the fight for equal pay in Scotland’s councils, visit my blog site at:

    The strike in Glasgow City Council is not about party politics – it’s about the Council’s failure to negotiate seriously after more than 10 months and 21 separate ‘settlement’ meetings with senior council officials.

    Many of the women who are taking strike action have voted for the SNP in the past, but believe the City Council is badly in the wrong now.

    The trade unions have at least learned from the past – whereas the City Council remains stuck in the past.

  9. millie

    Nah- In my opinion, it is about party politics- and the ‘women’ are political pawns in a political game (for labour) being played out by Labour unions and politicians – It is really disgusting to watch.

    The dreadful situation the women find themselves in was created by Labour, and now Labour via the GMB (after 10 lost years) is exploiting a genuine desire for negotiations and settlement by a new administration at Glasgow City Council – in a mere 10 months.

    The publican see this, and will have to pay for this labour ‘mismanagement’. The voting pattern of the women is totally irrelevant.

    The opportunism on display by the Unions and Labour party is breathtaking – and won’t be forgotten.

  10. Jimuckmac

    When it comes to the equal pay scandal, its been a sorry story. Labour have been real bad, the Unions have been real bad, and every bit as bad were the solicitors. Agree Mark?

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