Former Fife Council worker - I’ll fight for share of £50m

Helen McDonald worked as a home carer for Fife Council for 12 years.
Helen McDonald worked as a home carer for Fife Council for 12 years.

An ex-worker, forced to retire early through cancer, says she’ll put up a fight after missing out on Fife Council’s £50 million equal pay claim deal.

Helen McDonald (63), from Kirkcaldy, who was employed – and underpaid – as a home carer for 12 years, wants retired employees who lost out on the compensation deal to rally together.

She said: “I would have still been working but had to leave in 2013 through ill health.

“If it was a couple of pounds, well, fair enough, but I know one roadsweeper who was just paid out £20,000.

“I worked all those years and this is wrong – it’s discrimination.”

Unison struck a deal with Fife Council for over 1400 members – mainly low-paid carers, cleaners and cooks – who were victims of historic discriminatory pay practices dating back to 2006.

Payouts are also due for employees who lodged tribunal claims through other representatives, including Action 4 Equality Scotland.

Helen said: “I phoned Fife Council’s human resources department and explained who I was.

“Someone asked me two questions. Do you have a lawyer? No. Are you in a union? No.

“She said: “I can’t tell you anything” and that just made me feel worse.

“I didn’t work for the union, I worked for the council!”

According to the law, any claim can only be backdated five years.

The law also stipulates a pay claim by ex-employees is active only if lodged within six months of becoming retired.

In 2012, however, a group of 174 Birmingham City council workers won a supreme court ruling which extended the time limit for claiming from six months to six years.

Helen is inviting other retired staff to contact her at in the hope a Fife group can mount a similar fight.

Sharon McKenzie, head of HR said Fife Council was, in most cases, “seeking to resolve historic equal pay cases raised individually at tribunal”, some from as long ago as 2006.

“It would be illegal for the council to treat any case differently on the basis that an employee was or wasn’t a member of a trade union,” she said.

To address pay inequality, the Council also implemented a job evaluation scheme in 2007 which is due to be updated again this spring.

Equal pay bill set to exceed £50m

Fife Council’s reserves of £33m are set to be “wiped out” by the £50m plus cost of settling historic equal pay claims. Council leader David Ross warned there was now a need to make an additional £17m in savings next year, on top of planned savings of £21m, and a total of £91m in savings over the next three years.