CITY bosses could sell off council property to settle an equal pay dispute with staff.
Communities Minister Bob Neil announced that Sunderland, as well as Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland councils, have been given permission to sell off assets or borrow cash to pay money owed to former employees.
Thousands of local government employees – mostly women on low pay – are now legally entitled to receive backdated pay, running into millions of pounds, after years of being paid less despite doing jobs equally to their male counterparts.
Mr Neill said: “Pay inequalities of the past have left thousands of hard-working council employees, mainly women, out of pocket for doing the same work as colleagues. By giving councils the go-ahead and financial flexibility to settle pay inequalities we are enabling them to restore fairness whilst continuing to manage their budgets, protect important frontline services and keep costs to the taxpayer down.”
The announcement comes after 120 female ex-council workers took Sunderland City Council to a tribunal after it was found that the authority’s bonus scheme before October 1, 2005, was discriminatory.
The 2010 Equalities Act, which replaced the Equal Pay Act created in 1970, enshrined the concept that all employees are entitled to equal pay for work of equal value and that employees are entitled to claim up to six years of arrears of remuneration or damages where historical gender pay inequalities exist.
Sue Stanhope, head of organisational resources and human development at Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunderland City Council has been defending approximately 3,000 equal pay claims from employees and former employees and has been engaged in lengthy legal proceedings in the Employment Tribunal in Newcastle and the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London since 2005.
“In 2005 the council settled over 3,000 equal pay claims and potential equal pay claims relating to the period before October 2005, at a cost of £10.4 million.
“The council has been defending the claims that are still the subject of the ongoing legal proceedings.
“The council is studying the details of this announcement from Communities Minister Bob Neill.”