WIGAN’S cash-strapped council could face compensation claims worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from former workers following a controversial ruling over wages.
Town hall chiefs conceded today that they are awaiting the legal definition of this week’s Supreme Court victory over unpaid bonuses for a group of 170 Midlands-based former school dinner ladies, cleaners and care workers. Seen as a test case for local government as well as parts of the private sector, judges rejected Birmingham Council’s argument that the claim must fail because the workers should have lodged their claim within six months of leaving their jobs and via an Employment Tribunal.
They now have six years to make claims.
Lawyers for the group, who could now be entitled to as much as £2m compensation, called the result a “landmark” judgement and said it could have huge implications for many thousands of other local authority workers to submit claims.
They successfully claim is that women council staff such as dinner ladies or care workers had been denied bonuses which had been given to staff in traditionally male-dominated jobs like bin men, street cleaners, gritter drivers or highways maintenance teams.
These payments meant that male Manual Grade Two annual salaries have ended up in some case twice that of a female workers...even though both have the same level of responsibility and importance to council clients.
Lawyers now interpret the ruling as confirming that equal pay claims can be made in the county court over a six-year period...12 times the time employment tribunals allow.
A Wigan council source said that collective bargaining deals in the eighties won many bonus deals for blue collar council worker groups. But “for whatever reasons” the same pressure wasn’t brought to bear on behalf of school dinner ladies, cleaners, cooks and care workers and it had taken unions a long tim” to catch up with equality concerns.
Cabinet member for resources Coun Ged Bretherton said that they were now awaiting advice from lawyers about the potential ramifications and whether it could impound on the councils already severely stretched budgets.
He would only say: “Wigan council has made significant progress on equal pay over the recent years with the majority of claims brought against the council settled.
“Alongside other local authorities we will be seeking further clarification on the ruling made by the Supreme Court in favour of the workers at Birmingham City Council to understand fully if there are implications for Wigan.”
A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LG) which represents the council interests in Westminster said: “This ruling has implications for all employers.”
While a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Local government pay is a devolved matter for local councils and they will want to consider this legal ruling carefully.”