Birmingham City Council could face £1bn bill after women win equal pay case
Birmingham City Council is facing a potential £1 billion bill after losing an equal pay tribunal, a lawyer has claimed.
More than 4,000 female workers took the authority to an employment tribunal claiming they should be paid the same as men for doing the same job.
During the seven-week hearing the tribunal heard how a man doing the same pay graded job as a woman could earn four times more than her.
All the women were employed in traditionally female-dominated roles, such as cleaning, care and catering, as well as administration roles.
The tribunal’s judgement announced yesterday upheld the women’s complaints and means the council could be forced to pay up to £100,000 to each claimant made up of backdated salary and interest from the year 2000.
The claims stemmed from the introduction of a Single Status agreement aimed at removing wage differentials between men and women.
The tribunal heard also how while men in traditional male roles such as refuse collecting, grave-digging and road sweeping were paid bonuses, women were not. Some of the men earned as much as four times as a woman on the same salary grade.
Paul Savage, from Stefan Cross Solicitors, which represented almost 900 of the women, brought test claims for equal pay based on 49 different job groups within the council.
He said: “This is a decisive and clear victory and now the city council should start putting together plans to meet its liabilities.
“The women are owed a lot of money and it’s time that was rectified.”
He claimed the bill for the council based just on the 4,000 test cases was around £200 million.
But if a further 20,000 women from the 57,000-strong workforce also came forward and lodged claims that could rise to £1 billion.
The tribunal heard how the Single Status agreement was implemented by Birmingham in April 2008.
He said: “All local authorities signed up to Single Status and were obliged to bring in a new pay structure by 2000, but the vast majority failed to do so.
“It was revised again in 2004 with councils given an additional two years, but Birmingham City Council didn’t do it until 2008.”
The tribunal heard how a female cleaner on Grade 1 received £11,577 - the same grade as a street sweeper. But the sweeper actually earned £32,000 because of bonuses and overtime.
For a Grade 2 worker, such as a school crossing patrol, lunchtime supervisor or kitchen assistant, the salary was £11,737. But the highest paid refuse collector, also a Grade 2, took home £46,000.
A Grade 4 worker - which included a care assistant and refuse driver - should have earned just £12,291, but the highest-paid driver took home £50,000.
Mr Savage said: “Bonuses alone accounted for £15,000 of the street cleaner’s salary, £19,000 for the refuse collector, and £20,000 for the refuse driver. Part of the bonus was an attendance allowance just for turning up, which was denied to women on the same grade.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "For too long Birmingham City Council has failed to live up to its responsibilities to pay these women workers fairly. This has cost council taxpayers huge amounts of money in legal fees."
And Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB, added: "We've been fighting for equal pay rights for our members in councils for years and one of the worst offenders has been Birmingham City Council.
"They've known for years that they owe equal pay to their low-paid women workers but instead of paying up they've tried every trick in the lawyer's book to try to delay."
Alan Rudge, the council's cabinet member for equalities and human resources, said he would be consulting lawyers before deciding whether to appeal against the tribunal judgment.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) added: “Suggesting this will cost us even £200 million is way over the mark, let alone £1 billion.
“We have reserve funding in place to deal with the financial implications.”