Fife Council will pay out millions of pounds to 1400 low-paid workers under an agreement reached with public sector union UNISON.
The settlement relates to the equal pay claims of UNISON members – mainly low-paid women working in roles such as carers, cleaners and cooks – who will now be recompensed for historic discriminatory pay practices within the council.
Some of the claims date back as far as 2006, and it’s understood some individual pay-outs could reach five figures.
UNISON and Fife Council have both welcomed the deal, which clears the way for individual settlements to be agreed, but it also adds to the council’s financial pressures at a time when it is already struggling to balance the books.
Dougie Black, UNISON regional organiser for Fife local government, said: “This has been a long time coming. We can only thank UNISON members for their hard work and patience.
“We will now discuss individual claims with the employer to ensure each claim is calculated properly.
“This a good day for low-paid women workers and UNISON is proud to have been a part of it.”
Suzanne Craig, UNISON’s legal officer, said it was regrettable that it took the threat of proceeding to an Employment Tribunal to force the council to focus on a settlement, but it was great news for everyone that an agreement had been reached and the union would now be seeking early payment for its members.
She added: “This settlement also agrees the legal principles for moving forward to ensure wherever possible that job evaluation and pay practices remain free from discrimination in the future.
“Members will receive individual letters, in due course, outlining their settlement figures.
“I want to thank everyone for their patience.”
Council leader David Ross welcomed the news, saying the agreement is in the best interest of the council and its employees.
He said: “This has been a difficult time for everyone concerned.
“These claims have been ongoing for some considerable time and the legal processes involved have been complex.
“The fact that we have reached agreement without the need for legal proceedings has to be welcomed.”
Fife Council has unallocated reserves of around £32 million, and this is likely to be used to meet the compensation pay-outs.
But the total cost of the deal will not be known until all 1400 individual claims have been settled.
The final bill will be published and reported to the council’s executive committee once it is known. Individual financial agreements will remain confidential.
Other Scottish local authorities have already faced massive bills – North Lanarkshire was forced to pay out £70m to 4000 workers earlier this year – but Cllr Ross said: “There will no doubt be comparisons between Fife and other local authorities who are also dealing with equal pay claims.
“However it’s important to note that no two cases are the same and the fact that we haven’t had to go through a court process means Fife’s outcome cannot be compared to others.
“There will be significant cost to the council and we’re in the process of working through the fine detail which will lead to the final figures.
“Set against the existing budget gap of £77m over three years, this will make the development of our future budgets even more challenging.”