Busting The Myths Around Glasgow Equal Pay Strikes

As Glasgow’s gears up for what will be the biggest withdrawal of labour for equal pay in the UK since the 1960s, UNISON Scotland have provided some FACTS to counter the MYTHS that are doing the rounds. 


MYTH:  The Unions agreed to the Glasgow pay system but are now suing against their own agreement.

FACT:  UNISON’s local branch and equality team vetoed the Workforce Pay and Benefits  Review (WPBR). The tribunal decision records that the unions walked out on the job evaluation process, took a grievance and formally complained to the council  leader. The council admitted in the litigation that the jobs were graded by managers and consultants alone. In no sense is WPBR a union scheme.

“Nothing agreed, nothing offered, nothing proposed.

We demand real negotiations.”

The council approved WPBR on 16th October 2006. The committee report reflects the fact there was no agreement. Instead the report recommends imposing WPBR and contemplates doing so by mass dismissals. Under a Labour majority,  the report was approved. Workers got three chances to accept WPBR over the winter of 2006/07. Then it was imposed.

All this is “on the record”. In 12 years of argument over WPBR, including 14 disputes, 10 strikes and over 12,000 legal claims, no council official has ever said this was a union approved scheme. Anyone saying that now is making mischief.


MYTH: If the unions had employed their industrial muscle on this long before now we wouldn’t be in this position.

FACT:  No current Scottish pay system has faced more disputes and legal conflict than
WPBR. There have been 14 separate WPBR disputes in 11 years and 10 strikes.

“Start looking at settlement proposals so negotiations can finally start.

All we have had for nine months are talks about talks.”

Nearly 6,000 workers have been balloted in WPBR disputes and 3,500 have taken strike action. In parallel with the strikes there are 12,500 legal claims, many of which date back to 2008. Are the council honestly saying we could or should have been MORE aggressive?

Militancy is not the issue. None of this conflict would have been necessary if the council had not suppressed the findings of the statutory investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission in 2010.

In 2010 the EHRC conducted a statutory investigation of WPBR and told the council it was discriminatory. That report was suppressed. In 2018 Councillor Aitken correctly ordered the release of the secret report. Although that instruction has not been met in full we know enough from the material released to say that discrimination should have ended long before now.

What was needed to resolve this dispute in 2010 was not greater union militancy or legal wizardry, but simply the regular transparency of a council meeting. The officials were able to block and suppress the EHRC until 2018 because councillors never met to discuss equal pay issues between 2006 and 2018. Councillor Aitken exposed the fact that all Glasgow councillors failed, and failed badly. That is something we agree on. The big questions are simple – who knew what about the EHRC, when did they know, and what did they do? How did they silence a statutory agency that held expert evidence of discrimination at the council?


MYTH: The reasons for the strike do not justify strike action.

FACT: The reason for the strike is clear – the claimants have lost faith in the willingness of senior officials to deliver Councillors Aitken’s instructions. In December 2017, the parties agreed to adopt a joint timetable with clear stages or milestones. The workers were already low on confidence in March 2018 when they told Anne Robinson’s BBC documentary that they were going to the union to demand a strike.

“The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike.”

In May, a consultative ballot extracted a council commitment to adequate funding, a new joint timetable with milestones and a deadline of Christmas. In August the council missed their milestones, tore up the timetable and told the unions there would be no money until April 2019. We don’t know if the officials had councillor approval for the actions that triggered the strike vote. We shared that information openly with the members, as a trade union should, and the reaction was as clear as it was predictable. The call for strike action was overwhelming. This is a member led campaign and the members are angry. Very angry.


MYTH: The women don’t know why they are striking because the union misinformed them.

FACT: The council get irritated when we advise them how to address equality issues but it has to be said that publicly patronising powerful women who have high value legal claims is a high risk strategy. The members meet at least once a month to plan and execute their campaign. The members went to the Court of Session and there were over 30 claimants at the recent tribunal hearing. They know how the scheme was designed, they know about the EHRC cover up, they know the detail of the 42 point settlement plan and they know the council tore it up. They have battled through 14 disputes over 11 years and they know this is the conclusion of a long slow battle. The women know the reason for the dispute because it was the women who called the strike. It’s that simple.


MYTH: The unions know that council officers are carrying out the instructions of the council leader.

FACT: Cllr Aitken told the officials to end the EHRC cover-up and produce the report in full. In fact she told them three times. But we are still waiting for the truth behind the cover up. Councillor Aitken asked for a time table with milestones and dispute resolution. The officials missed the milestones, tore up the timetable and refused to go to mediation before 2019. Was that what the officials were instructed to do? We genuinely don’t think so.


MYTH: Any delay in making payments is due to the strike, not the actions of the council

FACT: The claimants’ representatives have been available to talk, without condition, since December 2017. It was the council who left the talks in response to the strike notice. The strike does not delay settlement. What delays settlement is the council’s attitude to the strike – their decision to walk away shows a lack of respect for low paid women. Every dispute is settled by discussion. The only way forward is to talk.


MYTH: The union’s escalated the campaign when the SNP defeated labour in 2017

FACT: With 6000 workers in 14 disputes, 10 strikes and 8,000 legal claims the campaign was very assertive against the Labour administration. What escalated the scale and significance of the campaign even further was the Court of Session decision in August 2017. Labour presided over the WPBR years and the SNP administration has set a course towards equality. Accepting the Court of Session ruling and removing WPBR were strong decisions that have received credit from the workforce and their representatives. But the unions are clear – we are in dispute with the employer, not the elected members. Party politics is irrelevant.


MYTH: The union’s are covering their backs for their discrimination over the last 12 years

FACT: This briefing sets out our actions. We vetoed WPBR before it was adopted. We commissioned the leading UK expert to analyse its impact after it was imposed and went straight to mass litigation. Every member received advice and we encouraged them to join the campaign. Although we lost the tribunal and the first appeal we kept fighting. In parallel with the litigation we organised Cordia workers against the discrimination within the ALEO policy and Cordia’s daily practices. We closed Cordia down and took the workers home to equality within the council. Working with Action4Equality we had to change the law of equal pay to bring equality to Glasgow. UNISON organised the mass participation of low paid women and removed the discrimination of tribunal fees to restore access to justice for all – in Glasgow and across the UK. We succeeded where the EHRC failed. This is not “union back-covering”. This is pay equality & pay justice.


 

Challenging poverty through trade unions and collective action

On the fifth day of Challenge Poverty Week 2018, Francis Stuart from our Policy team looks at how labour market trends are contributing to poverty in Scotland, and why rebuilding trade union power is key to tackling inequality.

Much has been made of Scotland and the UK’s ‘record levels of employment’. Yet real wages remain lower than they were ten years ago and one in ten workers are in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hour contracts, temporary work and low-paid self-employment. More still are underemployed – working part-time but seeking more hours.

These labour market trends feed into the picture of poverty in Scotland today.

More than one in five people in Scotland live in poverty. The likelihood of being in poverty is higher still for women, lone parents, ethnic minorities, and disabled people and their families.

In-work poverty is also on the rise, increasing from 440,000 in 2011-2014 to 540,000 in 2014-17.

That paid work is no longer a guarantee against poverty should concern us all. So how can we address this?

Well a good place to start, whether you are a policymaker or a professional, an activist or an academic, would be to promote trade union membership and collective bargaining coverage.

There is a strong body of evidence to show that high trade union membership and collective bargaining is associated with lower levels of economic inequality. This can be seen historically in the UK where inequality, particularly at the extreme end, has risen at the same time as trade union membership has fallen.

Trade union membership and top 1% share of income in the UK

graph blog 1

It can also been seen across the developed world, where countries with higher collective bargaining arrangements, have lower levels of extreme inequality.

Collective bargaining and top 1% share of income in EU countries (2010)

blog graph 2 

While the current labour market and trade union membership trends are concerning, they aren’t fixed. Trade union membership levels only began to fall in 1979 due to a concerted and deliberate political attack by Government and elites. It can be undone through workplace organising and political support from outside the workplace.

Rising poverty isn’t predetermined either – it is driven by low-paid, precarious work; high housing costs and a diminishing welfare state. Yes addressing these issues requires policy change from Government but, as the link to trade unions shows, it also requires institutions and political movements that fight for that change.

Positively, there are a range of inspiring efforts underway. Only yesterday, workers at Wetherspoons, TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Uber Eats and Deliveroo walked out on strike in a day of action coordinated by trade unions.

Later this month more than 8,000 Glasgow City Council workers – mostly women carers, cleaners and caterers who’ve been historically discriminated against – are set to strike after Unison and the GMB members overwhelmingly voted to take industrial action over equal pay.

Out with the trade union movement, a number of anti-poverty groups, disabled peoples groups and groups such as Living Rent, are led by those with first-hand experience of challenging those responsible for discrimination and exploitation.

Let’s learn the lessons from these organisations and movements. Not to stop making the case for policy change but to ensure that it is sustained by a fundamental transformation of the power dynamics within our economy.


Challenge Poverty Week is organised by The Poverty Alliance. Find out more about their work here.