Victory for equal pay fight

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SUNDERLAND Council could be facing a £20million pay-out after losing an appeal over equal pay claims.

More than 120 female former council workers are celebrating after an Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed the local authority’s bonus scheme before October 1, 2005, was discriminatory.

A further two proceedings are also ongoing for women who claim they were unfairly paid after 2005 and another element involving protection agreement.

If these tribunals also fall in favour of the women, their solicitor estimates the council may have to pay out more than £20m.

In the case of the 120 workers, an employment tribunal in Newcastle found in 2008 that the council had unlawfully discriminated against women employees by giving bonus payments to male workers employed as street sweepers, gardeners and refuse collectors.

The women, represented by Stefan Cross Solicitors Limited, submitted claims against the council in respect of their jobs which included cleaners, cooks and care assistants.

And an appeal by the council has now been rejected by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The payouts – some of up to £25,000 per person – were put on hold while they waited for the outcome of the appeal.

But the appeal tribunal has now agreed the bonus scheme was unfair and upheld the decision that the council owed the women the extra cash.

Solicitor Stefan Cross said: “The High Court have upheld that the pay arrangements that Sunderland council had in place up until 2005 were discriminatory and unlawful.

“We are thrilled to bits and it’s really good that we’ve got the support of the High Court over something we have been seeking for nearly seven years.

“It will be nice to hopefully get some money into these women’s hands as soon as possible.”

Among the women is a former cook and school meals worker who was employed at the council for 26 years.

The woman, who has now retired and does not want to be named, is expecting a pay-out of up to £20,000 after a seven-year fight.

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted and ecstatic because we’ve waited so long.

“It was unfair because it turned out a lot of men who were doing the same jobs as us had been paid bonuses over a number of years.

“If people are doing the same job, then they should be paid equally. It’s as simple as that.”

A Sunderland City Council spokesman said: “The council has just received the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in respect of the pre-2005 bonus schemes, and is naturally disappointed at the outcome at this stage.

“This is only one aspect of an extremely complex and long-running set of equal pay proceedings and the council will need time to consider the full implications of this decision in a broader context.

“The overall proceedings are likely to last into 2012.”