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.
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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