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Thousands of women council workers across Glasgow will walk out on 23 and 24 October in what unions believe to be the largest equal pay strike since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. The majority of the women are over 45 and have been doing their jobs for 20 years.
The council expects 50,000 pupils to be affected along with 6,000 people receiving home care, but UNISON regional organiser Mandy McDowell is keen to stress that the union and its members will make sure there is full life and limb cover for services helping vulnerable people.
The decision to take strike action comes after a 12-year battle, fought through tribunals and courts, and a repeated refusal by the council’s current political leadership to state its own position across nearly 12 months and 21 meetings since the highest court in Scotland ruled last year that the city’s pay system was discriminatory.
GMB Scotland Organiser Rhea Wolfson said: “Women workers are striking against decades of unresolved sex discrimination. They have been robbed of hundreds of millions, if not billions of pounds".
UNISON and GMB estimate that the equal pay claims against the Glasgow City Council could be worth £1 billion.
Mary Dawson, UNISON Glasgow Chair, added: “Our members are now standing up and fighting back. Low paid workers, mostly women who have had enough."
Under the message "Women Make Glasgow", a reference to the city council’s marketing slogan People Make Glasgow, four women affected by the pay issue [GMB members (left to right) Gillian Docherty, Eileen Dougall, Shona Thomson and Lee-Ann Dougall] are pictured with the words “We want equal pay. Over 10 years and still waiting for justice. Glasgow City Council - pay us what we deserve.” (Jane Barlow/PA).
Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, said, "This might be the first strike organized by women over gender-based pay discrimination in public services that shows how far we are from real equality, and also how gender-based discrimination is at the root of the devaluation of jobs which are mostly held by women."
12 years and counting...
The women council workers in Glasgow have been waiting for more than a decade for equal pay since the city's council introduced a new pay and grading scheme in 2006, which was supposed to put an end to pay inequality based on gender. However, it included three-year protections for bonuses paid to men, but not to women.
That prompted employment tribunal cases arguing that it was both unfair and unlawful to continue pay discrimination for three years after the new scheme was put into place.
Also, women in traditionally female jobs – such as caterers, cleaners and care assistants – found they were being paid less than men in jobs such as refuse collection. Although the jobs were of equal value and should have attracted equal pay, they argued that the scheme scored the skills of jobs traditionally associated with men higher than those that were seen as “women’s work”.